A recent study by the Urban Land Institute proposed an ambitious plan to revitalize the blighted North Charleston Rivers Avenue corridor with affordable housing, private development, walkable streets, and community services. The study’s main recommendations agree with recent Charleston County Council plans to recommend the demolishment of the former Charleston Naval Hospital at an estimated cost of $6 million. Recently the Charleston County Council received a proposal from a potential buyer, so plans to demolish the Naval Hospital are on hold until a decision is made to sell the property to WECCO Development.
Charleston County revitalization plans include development of new buildings on the site. The plans incorporate the development of an office building on Rivers Avenue and a CARTA bus transfer station on McMillan Avenue, and a possible second county building. The rest of the developable acreage will be used to attract private developers.
Urban Land Institute tasked with examining feasibility of development for the area.
The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit research and education organization, is considering how to develop this corridor while mitigating harmful effects, such as gentrification that frequently occurs with new development. The ULI panelists said more housing in the area will attract businesses and if done with proper planning, could bring in high-density buildings along the main transportation routes. Currently the Rivers Avenue corridor is in an area where the median family income is just below $40,000, and more than 40 percent of residents spend up to 40 percent of their income on rent.
North Charleston in “doughnut hole” for development.
ULI study panelist Lance Robbins, CEO of Urban Smart Growth in Los Angeles, said the North Charleston’s south end is surrounded by robust growth, but is being left out. “I’ve never seen an area that’s so much the hole in the doughnut as this project.” Robbins said that going forward, the local governments and nonprofit groups studying the development of the metropolitan area should create a fund for affordable housing, otherwise “the area will slowly gentrify and continue to decay.”
North Charleston, Charleston County and the Coastal Conservation League jointly funded the ULI study which brought land planners and community developers from other states together for a week to provide solutions and give a fresh perspective. The meeting was an opportunity for the city and county to align their goals and hear from experts to take a step in the right direction in terms of collaboration. The big question was how to pay for it all.
“We’ve had a very challenging time trying to attract appropriate development to the area. We thought it was a good time to take a step back and bring in experts from across the country, and try to get some expertise from people who don’t have political, emotional, and financial ties,” said city Project Manager Adam MacConnell. Going forward, the hope is that the collaboration between the city, county, nonprofit groups and communities will continue.
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