Citizens vocal about negative effects of parking garage

  • Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shem Creek Parking Garage

Many of the changes to Coleman Boulevard are becoming more and more noticeable and as they do, citizens are asking for a slow down.

In the most recent instance, citizens want to know when and how a parking garage was approved near Shem Creek.

Many citizens of the Old Village are concerned about the proposed parking garage at the corner of Mill Street and Coleman (on the same side as the former Settee restaurant). A petition is circulating to halt the project.

Opponents feel that the parking garage would not only detract from the beautiful natural marsh surroundings, but also, the garage would not blend with the current buildings along Shem Creek.

People from all parts of town attended the community discussion of the garage. “Everyone agreed we need parking in the area but not on Shem Creek,” Santos said. “We need to keep the ambiance of the creek right there. That building will tower over the bridge and become the main focal point of the creek. That’s not what I want.”

The structure has been approved – seven Mount Pleasant Town Council members voted in favor of the project. Council member Gary Santos was the dissenting voice.

“This plan also could represent a foreshadowing of future tall buildings in that area. This proposal also echoes Planning Commission member Bob Brimmer’s concerns of recent building proposals ‘not blending in with the surrounding community,’” the petition states.

Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Gary Santos has formed a Council of Homeowner’s Associations consisting of presidents of homeowner’s associations or their delegates, as well as representatives of neighborhoods that don’t have homeowner’s associations.

“The goal is to have these representatives from the various neighborhoods in Mount Pleasant meet once a month or quarterly to discuss issues that affect the town and its citizens, including but not limited to planning issues,” said Santos. “This is so that they can be more informed and participate in the processes that will affect the quality of life for all of our citizens.”

A meeting held Wednesday addressed concerns over the parking garage at Shem Creek.

The proposed project is a joint venture between the town and developer Tex Smalls, known for developing The Shops at Oakland. The plan is for three floors of parking below and two floors of commercial office space above. The total height will be 55 feet. The original plans for the overlay district restricted the height in this location to 40 feet.

The design hasn’t been finalized. According to the developer’s website, construction will begin at the end of the summer.

In September of 2013, Smalls, along with the support of members of the town council, approved the zoning to 55 feet.

Opponents are concerned that the town will continue to increase the height of the proposed structures in the overlay district.

The microphone was open to everyone at the meeting. All those who spoke were disappointed that town council won’t open the issue and discuss it. “It is bad to stifle debate,” Santos said.

Councilman Santos told the audience Wednesday that more than $2 million of public funds is currently going to be used on the garage portion of the project. He said he will make a proposal at the next Mount Pleasant meeting to rescind those funds. He told the crowd that while he will make the proposal, there is no guarantee that another council member will second his proposal and allow that debate.

Changes to Coleman Boulevard came about after an intense study that took nearly five years for the Town of Mount Pleasant to compile. The result was a revitalization master plan developed in 2008. The plan created zoning and development guideline changes that encourage mixed-use developments, with the ultimate goal being a new look and feel to Main Street.

But opponents have been clear that not only are they concerned over the height of the structure, but also the design. Petitioners fear the architecture will not be in keeping with the surrounding area and will be more in line with the architecture of The Boulevard which was built by The Beach Company.

Santos has heard that those in favor of the garage are wondering why citizens are coming forward now. But as he read the original announcements that were on the agenda in regards to the proposal, he explained that regular citizens would not have understood what it meant.

“The announcement said a text amendment for a change of development on Mill Street was listed. It doesn’t say anything about a parking garage. We need to do these announcements in English where the average person understands them.”

His goal is to make these announcements more clear so citizens can understand them and be able to participate if they want.

The idea of the mixed-use development is to create a public parking garage that the town doesn’t have to build, operate or maintain, Mount Pleasant Town Administrator Eric DeMoura has been quoted as saying.

A certain number of parking spaces would always be available for public parking, and after-office hours — when Shem Creek’s bar and restaurants hit their peak — the entire garage would be open to the public.

DeMoura said the garage also would allow new development on some smaller nearby properties that currently can’t meet the town’s parking requirements.

“The parking garage would count toward that parking,” he said. “Not only will this help spur development around Shem Creek, but it also will spur economic activity in that general vicinity.”

DeMoura said the town’s money will come from the town’s accommodations taxes, and the developer will decide how much to charge the public for parking there.

The proposed garage has created a lot of controversy and spawned two online petitions, which to date have more than 2,000 signatures combined.

They can be found at:

• http://tinyurl.com/k4j955u

• http://tinyurl.com/olmywdb

“This is not personal,” Santos said. “This is about protecting the ambiance of the creek.”

Santos said his next goal is to change the approved 75-foot height in the overlay of Coleman. “The boulevard is 65 feet and 75 feet is allowed in three more places along the boulevard, I think 55 is too high. I’d do 45.”

But he may have trouble changing the overlay plan. He’s tried once before, even if just for the sake of discussion, he said and could not get a second to his motion. “When you can’t even get a second to a motion to have an honest discussion, that tells me something is going on.”

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