The showdown finally is at hand for a $40 million project designed to be a major step in transforming West Columbia’s 122-year-old riverfront.
City Council members are slated to settle Wednesday on the final make-up of a plan intended to be a landmark for the Lexington County community of 15,000 residents.
“It’s a catalyst for what’s to come,” Councilman Jimmy Brooks said.
City leaders are coping with last-minute complaints from nearby residents that may alter the final shape of the development. The main complaints are too much traffic and noise after sunset and too little parking.
Plans call for the project to contain as many as 235 apartments and condominiums, and up to 80,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and offices, all in multi-story buildings providing views of the Congaree River a block away.
Some homeowners in the adjoining Mill Village neighborhood say that’s too much to put on the 4-acre site at State and Meeting streets near the Gervais Street bridge.
“We all want something there,” Andy Boyd said. “But this is not the answer.”
Residents fret that traffic associated with the development will spill over onto narrow streets lined with bungalows and duplexes built when the area was a textile manufacturing hub, creating travel and parking hassles. Others are concerned about noise at night from activities on the site.
City officials, trying to find a balance, are considering steps such as one-way streets and turn restrictions to deter traffic from going into the neighborhood. But residents say those changes will be inconvenient for them.
Some residents want larger public gathering sites in the development, which would mean smaller or fewer buildings. One of two parks seems “like a glorified sidewalk” with heavy landscaping, homeowner Carolyn Murphy complained.
An accommodation for riverfront recreation is included in the project .
The empty property – nicknamed The Pit – serves as an unofficial dirt parking lot for those who visit the river.
Councilman Brooks, among those who frequents the riverfront, said the loss of easy parking is worth the gain of bringing more attention to the area.
West Columbia is paying for 125 spaces in the project’s garage to be set aside for people headed to activities along the river that include an amphitheater for concerts and a scenic bicycle and pedestrian walkway.
But public use of those spaces might require what council members have characterized as an undetermined, small fee intended to prevent residents, diners, shoppers and worker from staying there all day. City officials once said public garage space would be free.
Different developers looked at the site over the years, but Estates & Companies is the first to pursue making anything happen. The plan is “the right project and the right mix,” developer Matt Mundy said.
Its name of Brookland dusts off local history, echoing West Columbia’s original name.
Mundy describes the combination of four buildings with two small parks and two public plazas on the sloping site as “making it feel more like a village.” The plan was developed by a team of consultants who put it through more than 40 refinements, he said.
Buildings on the sloping site will vary in height up to 76 feet, a level city officials might reduce slightly.
The plan gives Mundy’s firm flexibility to adapt development with demand. For instance, up to 50 fewer residences may be built if interest in office space is strong.
Guidelines set by city officials say the project must include at least 30,000 square feet for stores and restaurants to assure more than apartments and offices take root. A cap allowing a maximum of 200 residences is under discussion.
Mundy’s firm is so proud of the plan that it intends to move its headquarters from downtown Columbia to the site. “We want to call this home as well,” he said.
Leaders of the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project during the weekend as enhancing the riverfront in a new way.
Making the project a reality is a decade-old dream of city leaders as part of an effort to revitalize some of the older parts of the city.
Brookland would be the latest development after the Riverwalk and the opening of a new riverfront neighborhood with some of the priciest homes in the Columbia area.
When fully developed, the project will generate $850,000 a year initially in property taxes as well as an unknown amount in business license fees and other revenue, assistant city manager Brian Carter estimates.
Slightly more than half of that will go to Lexington 2 schools, with a smaller share to the county, Midlands Technical College, Riverbanks Zoo and others.
City Hall’s share – expected to be $148,000 annually at first – will pay for the parking garage, parks and plazas, according to decisions by council about the project. Payment for those is spread over 15 years.
Brookland promises to become a centerpiece that will provide an economic and esthetic boost for the community, city leaders say.
“You’ve really outdone yourself,” veteran Councilman Dale Harley told Mundy’s team last week.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
The evolution of Brookland
▪ It would be a blend of apartments, condominiums, offices, shops and restaurants, with two small parks and two public plazas. A garage at the bottom of a five-story building sets aside 125 parking spaces for people headed to the Riverwalk a block away.
▪ After watching the nearby Vista boom, city leaders acquired the 4-acre site overlooking the Congaree River near the Gervais Street bridge a decade ago to spur redevelopment in one of the community’s oldest neighborhoods.
▪ Different developers looked at the site during the past decade, but Estates & Companies is the first to pursue constructing the project.
Some homeowners in the Mill Village adjoining the project say the redevelopment dream of city leaders may become a nightmare for them. Main concerns are:
Traffic: Entrances off Court Avenue and Oliver Street will bring more vehicles on narrow neighborhood streets. State transportation officials won’t allow entry off Meeting Street, a main commuter route.
Parking: Skepticism abounds that parking for more than 400 vehicles on the site is sufficient, causing traffic to spill over into the Mill Village neighborhood next door.
Noise: Outdoor gatherings at a plaza and al fresco dining could be disruptive at night.