The future of a $40 million, 800-bed private student dorm project in Columbias Vista is uncertain after a city design board shot it down 8-1 Thursday, granting a reprieve for the historic Palmetto Compress building on the site.
Members of the Design, Development Review Commission said the plans did not conform to the Innovista Design Guidelines, which encourage high density, mixed-use development and structured parking. The project by Columbus, Ohio-based Edwards Communities is a suburban-style apartment complex with multiple three- and four-story-buildings and surface parking.
Its an absolutely terrible project for the location, member Lesesne Monteith said. Its a garden apartment (complex) without the garden.
Another point of contention was that the plan called for the razing of the Palmetto Compress cotton warehouse building, which is in the National Register of Historic Places. Although the commission does not have the authority to block the demolition of the building, many of the speakers at Thursdays meeting in opposition to the project noted that it was included in most of the master plans for the Innovista district, which is USCs research campus.
Edwards Communities chairman Pete Edwards made a rare appearance at the meeting. He said after the vote that he didnt know what the companys next step would be.
The people have spoken. They want to save the building, he said. Ill have to talk with the owners.
The building was purchased in 1986 by a group called the Palmetto Preservation Corp. The previous owner, the late Henry Thomas, had applied and received the national register designation which does nothing to prevent its demolition in 1985 prior to the sale.
The 15-member group, inspired by the efforts to turn the old Columbia Mill into what is now the S.C. State Museum, included such heavy hitters as engineering firm founder Wilbur Smith, the late former Gov. Robert McNair and businessman John Lumpkin.
Efforts to reach a spokesman for the ownership group were not immediately successful.
But John Currie, one of the owners, has said that for 26 years the owners have tried to market the property to developers, but none was willing to reuse the building because of the cost to redevelop it, despite interest from more than 100 people. He noted that the property has been under contract five times and nothing has moved forward.
Mayor Steve Benjamin originally asked for the landmark designation for the building but withdrew it after touring the building and speaking with architects. He said he believes it would be financially unfeasible to renovate the building for other uses.
Preliminary plans submitted by Edwards Communities show three-story and four-story-buildings containing about 800 beds arrayed on either side of Blossom Street between Pulaski Street and the railroad cut just south of USCs Greek Village.
In the plans, the two main buildings, including the club house and pool, are on the site of the four-story Palmetto Compress building.
Developer Richard Burts, who bought and renovated the popular cultural and arts center 701 Whaley when it was targeted for demolition, was one of 21 people to speak in opposition to the plans Thursday night. Those opposing the plan included preservation groups, neighborhood associations and even the business-friendly Vista Guild.
No one but the developer spoke in favor of the plans during the two-hour discussion.
Burts said after the meeting that he doesnt consider the vote a final victory because no one knows what the company might now propose or what the owners might choose to do with the compress building.
But he said the site is a gateway to USC and its development should be held to a higher standard than normal construction projects. He noted its proximity to the new Darla Moore School of Business and the USC baseball programs Carolina Stadium structures that are helping define both downtown Columbia and the USC campus as it stretches to the river.
The Innovista and waterfront districts are going to tie us all together, he said. The city needs to set the bar high and then make it clear to developers where that bar is. Then people can see what those expectations are and build fabulous buildings.