Poor architectural design is making “density” a bad word in the Lowcountry, according to Josh Martin, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s senior adviser on the built environment.
Martin said the public reacts negatively to seeing building designs that are “Dallas-like or Charlotte-like” in the Lowcountry.
“When people see them, the buildings are yelling at them because they’re not designed contextually, whether it’s materials or whether it’s height or what have you,” he said during a Power Breakfast event this morning hosted by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.
Natalie Olson, land use program director and staff attorney for the Coastal Conservation League, agreed that design is part of the problem, but she said function is also a large downfall of many high-density developments.
“If it doesn’t have accommodations for walkability and bike-ability and the appropriate mixed use, then it’s not going to deliver the results that high-density developments are supposed to be delivering,” Olson said.
She used The Boulevard, a mixed-use development on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, as an example of a lack of functionality.
“If you don’t have a crosswalk going across the street to the commercial development, then you’re going to have people sprinting across the street and endangering their lives, or they’re going to get in their car and drive to the grocery store,” she said.
She added that the community should be not be scared by a few poorly executed high-density projects, because greater density is the solution to growth.
Tony Woody, a professional engineer and vice president with Thomas & Hutton, said it’s also important for municipalities to better plan where businesses are located in conjunction with residential developments.
“Density doesn’t necessarily equate to traffic congestion if the residential density is located ... close to commercial zones, close to job centers. Then, in fact, that density can reduce traffic,” Woody said. “If the residential density is located away from the employment center, and everybody that lives in that area has to get on an interstate to get to work, yes, that directly relates to congestion.”
Developers should also consider the needs of the people they are trying attract to their project before they start building it, according to Wil Riley, CEO of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.
“I think if we’re going to start from scratch, including the people that the housing is being designed for, I think, is a tremendous group that we need to incorporate,” Riley said. “Do I really need four bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms and all of these other sitting areas and formal rooms, or do I just want a kitchen and a place to lay my head at night? We need to figure out what the people that are coming are looking for.”
If growth isn’t managed properly and more affordable housing doesn’t become available, Booz Allen Vice President Marc Murphy said it will soon have a negative impact on businesses.
“You look at Boston and San Francisco. We’re probably not there yet, but because of the national prominence that Charleston has, it’s feasible we could get there where you could not afford to employ people in Charleston proper,” Murphy said. “Our next domain now is Summerville. Our employees can only afford to live in Summerville.”
He said one of the biggest concerns for prospective and new employees is finding housing.
“As I explore other locations, downtown is almost off limits for any reasonable-size technology company because you can’t get into downtown, parking becomes scarce and expensive and housing at any reasonable proximity to downtown is either unavailable or very expensive,” Murphy said.