The fog over what the redevelopment of the Bull Street property might look like lifted ever so slightly Monday.
Columbia’s Planning Commission and a handful of residents who listened to a 70-minute conceptual presentation by Greenville developer Bob Hughes walked away with many unanswered questions.
Cottontown neighborhood president Ellen Cooper summed up the takeaway lesson best. “I will anxiously await,” she told Hughes and the team that explained a new-to-Columbia concept in urban planning.
Hughes said after the meeting in City Council chambers that he plans to release a more detailed plan later this week.
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Hughes Development Corp. in January submitted a broad outline for a “planned urban development” of the 181-acre parcel that is expected to become the city’s largest project to blend residential and commercial development with greenways – all accessible on foot.
That 181-page plan showed that eventually Bull Street might have as many as 3,550 residences, a new through-street running south to north from Gregg Street, 13 entrances and, perhaps a spot for a baseball park.
Hughes told The State on Monday after the commission meeting that he’s banking on breaking ground on the first project this summer. “The economic model depends on it,” he said. He would not say what the project is.
Hughes also said that secondary developers, those whom he would contract with to build most of the Bull Street projects, have not been knocking down his doors.
“The demand hasn’t really been as strong as I hoped it would be,” he said. “I was hoping for the slingshot to come out of (the recession).”
The concept Hughes laid out Monday is to build a community that is pedestrian-friendly both within its boundaries and with the larger city, said Dimitri Baches, a Beaufort-based consultant who specializes in urban design and is part of Hughes’ team.
Hughes is asking the city to adopt a zoning designation that, rather than separating residential and commercial uses as most zoning does, allows those uses to be mixed in close proximity to create a back-to-the-future community that would look like towns before automobiles allowed people to live, work and shop in separate places. The term for the designation is “form-based” codes or “smart” codes.
Baches simplified the difference by asking planning commissioners to think of the Bull Street plan as centered on foot traffic while most cities are designed around the notion of traveling by car.
Smart codes are catching on around the nation. The city of Miami recently adopted them citywide, Baches told the commission.
In much of Bull Street, homeowners would park behind their residences and walk through alleyways to go into their homes. There would be no street-front garages, Baches said. Homes would be like small cottages that might abut each other or have small side yards.
In commercial districts, street levels would have retail shops and other commerce while residences would be on the second and other floors, he said.
“What we’re trying to do here in Columbia is a pilot project for form-based codes with plans to extend it across the city,” Baches told the commission.
The commission plans at least two meetings after Hughes provides greater details about his plans. Commission chairman Mark James said the public is invited to attend and share its views. Commissioners are to vote on Hughes’ plan at their March 5 meeting.
James stressed that the development would be in harmony with surrounding mill neighborhoods and commercial areas, just planned better to create a community.
“We want it to be its own place. We’ll be an island, but it won’t be noticed that it’s an island,” he said to planning commission member Maryellen Cannizzaro. “I think you’ll walk across the street (from current neighborhoods) and the character will just be newer. We want it to be (like) what our neighbors are on one side and then urbanized as we draw inside (the project).”
Cannizzaro responded, “I’m going to look for that.”
Planning Commission chairman James said one of the questions he wants answered is how much authority would the commission and City Council have to change the zoning designation after the city adopts it.
“I’m not clear yet,” James said.