Controversial plans to build nearly 300 apartments, including 10 townhomes, and commercial shops on the former Cardinal Newman School site received approval on Tuesday from the Forest Acres planning board.
The panel’s 5-1 vote was met with a smattering of boos from some of the few dozen residents who stayed until the end of the nearly two-hour discussion. Roughly 120 Forest Acres residents attended the meeting at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, many voicing concerns or support for The Beach Co. of Charleston’s proposed $60 million project.
More than half left before hearing the panel’s decision, which was only advisory. Ned Miller, The Beach Co. development manager overseeing the project, said the plans will go before Forest Acres City Council in February for a public hearing.
“I feel good about it,” Miller said of the decision. “I feel like it supports our plan. We’ve thought through a lot of the issues and addressed those.”
Just as it did in the Nov. 9 town hall meeting when it first revealed the plans, The Beach Co. and its partners explained everything from its proposed building design to how it will handle traffic and manage stormwater.
Buildings in “Forest Acres Village Square” would be three to five stories tall, with apartments above ground-level shops on the side facing Forest Drive. The developer has vowed to bring local, small-scale restaurants and boutique shops to the project’s commercial units.
Some residents scoffed at the plans, saying the development would exacerbate existing traffic problems on the busy, shop-lined Forest Drive corridor between Beltline Boulevard and Trenholm Road. The Beach Co. expects the development to add more than 3,000 cars per day to Forest Drive, which has been maligned for its speeding cars, dangerous left turns and badly timed traffic lights.
Bet Tarrant, who said she has lived in Forest Acres all her life, told the panel bringing so many apartments and townhomes to the site would “completely max out” traffic on Forest Drive. Others questioned the legitimacy of the Forest Drive traffic study used in The Beach Co.’s presentation.
A few who spoke, such as Karen Salisbury, who said she has lived in the area for 12 years, said they were torn between wanting the development and worrying about its impact on traffic.
“I feel like it’s a great idea, but I’m really concerned about traffic,” Salisbury said. “I’m on those roads two, three, four times a day going back and forth to school, and I’m not sure that this project is really the issue. It’s really a traffic issue, and I experience it every day.”
The Beach Co. passed out flyers at the meeting explaining, among other things, that it would offset the impact of adding more cars to Forest Drive by:
▪ Providing a second left-hand turn lane at the intersection of Forest Drive and Trenholm Road, where traffic sometimes backs up as cars wait to turn
▪ Adjusting a nearby traffic signal to better facilitate left-hand turns out of the proposed development
▪ Limiting direct access to nearby Gamewell Drive from the development, which the developer said will discourage cut-through traffic
▪ Allowing only right turns at the other exit from the development onto Forest Drive.
The project had plenty of support among residents who attended, a few who said the mixed-use development would be preferable to a big-box store or other types of development.
Stephen Oliver, who has lived on nearby Dalloz Road for seven years, said the project appears to be the “best option for our community.”
“I’m excited for new restaurants, new merchants to come in,” Oliver said. “As a young family, we don’t like to venture outside of Forest Acres, and I think this brings an opportunity to spend more money locally to help our local economy. It’s aesthetically pleasing to me.”
The panel did not hold its own discussion about the plans before voting, approving the plans moments after residents finished speaking.