The University of South Carolina is reviewing its plans for a student housing village on the south side of its downtown Columbia campus after neighbors objected to the amount of students and traffic it would bring.
USC has withdrawn its request to the city’s zoning board for a special exception to establish the up-to-3,800-bed “Campus Village,” bordered by Pickens, Heyward and Sumter streets, near the school’s soccer stadium.
Withdrawing the request will give USC time to meet with neighborhood representatives about their concerns for the proposed 18-acre development, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. Conversations with those neighbors will dictate USC’s timetable for reapplying to the Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals, Hickman said.
“We’ve taken a pause on the regulatory side of things,” Hickman said. “What is very much in progress going forward are conversations with the neighbors, getting input from them to advise our plan going forward.”
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Nearby residents said their foremost concern is how adding thousands of students to the area will affect traffic. Plans call for tearing down four residence halls with 1,200 beds — Bates House, Bates West, Cliff Apartments and Carolina Gardens — and replacing them with three- to six-story towers and a parking garage.
“Tripling the number of beds from 1,250 to 3,750 is a big concern,” said Walter Marks, president of the nearby Wales Garden neighborhood association.
Marks said he wants the village’s plans to include ways to redirect traffic away from the neighborhoods, which lie east of Pickens Street. Joe Wray, who heads the Wheeler Hill neighborhood association, echoed those concerns.
“If they put as much density as they’re talking about on the Pickens Street side, it’s going to be a nightmare,” Wray said. “Pickens Street is pretty bad for traffic now. We feel like if they put a lot of density on that side, it’s going to make traffic a lot worse.”
The state’s largest college had pushed its request from the city zoning board’s November meeting to January before withdrawing the request entirely. A small group of neighborhood leaders say they plan to sit down with city planners and USC officials in early December to discuss the development.
“The university has been pretty good about meeting with the neighborhoods in general, but we feel like we ought to have a bigger place with them at the table in terms of planning and the redevelopment,” Wray said.
USC has met with neighbors already to hear some of their concerns. In an email sent to neighborhood association presidents on Nov. 6, USC vowed to limit parking only to Campus Village residents, provide garage parking and shuttles to discourage students in the village from driving to and from campus and explore options for steering students in cars away from Pickens Street.
The village also will be designed to provide a variety of services so students do not feel the need to leave regularly, the email said. Hickman said the village would serve students with “modern housing, meeting facilities, academic space, restaurant facilities” and other amenities.
USC’s student body grew 58 percent between 2000 and 2013, a recent Washington Post study found. The growth has driven the city’s recent boom in private apartments, also called “student dorms.” But USC also has been adding its own dorms.
A Memphis, Tenn.-based developor in September called off plans for a high-rise student apartment tower at College and Main streets after protests from USC.
USC officials fought the proposed 15-story tower because they said it would put a shadow at times over the school’s iconic Horseshoe — located about a block away. The university’s alumni association launched a website with an online petition opposing the project.
Marks said he appreciates that USC seems to want to “get it right.”
“This is a long-term process that can’t be redone if we make mistakes,” Marks said.