Clemson’s student housing growth can be managed, school official believes

By Mike Eads

A new student apartment project planned for downtown Clemson, at the corner of College Avenue and Keowee Trail.
A new student apartment project planned for downtown Clemson, at the corner of College Avenue and Keowee Trail. Provided photo

CLEMSON, SC Clemson City Planner Todd Steadman told city staffers and oversight boards Friday that the city can handle the growing influx of students downtown.

A new parking deck, trading street-level parking for wider sidewalks and requiring upper level step backs for taller buildings are all possible strategies for the south end of downtown near the Clemson University campus, leaving the middle and upper blocks of College Avenue between campus and U.S. 123 to "geographically becoming the center of town," according to Steadman.

City Councilman Tim Fowler lives near downtown. He said he has always expected students to spill into the downtown area at some point.

“I think that’s where they (students) belong, the closer we get them into campus the less they are going into neighborhoods or causing traffic,” said Fowler.

Fowler and Zoning and Codes Administrator Jacob Peabody also knocked public complaints that the city's Board of Architectural Review is too accommodating of developers.

"You’re not going to please everybody in this town," said Fowler. "If they (the BAR) turned everything down, then everybody would be happy."

The group also learned that the latest big student housing proposal isn't a done deal. The Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co. wants to clear The Shops of College Place to make way for 405 College Avenue, a 109-unit student housing project including 373 student bedrooms, a large parking garage and 14,000-square-feet of retail space. The Shops house the Blue Heron restaurant and other retail businesses on 2.5 acres at College Avenue and Keowee Trail.

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The company is due back in front of the Board of Architectural Review on May 2. Peabody said Friday that city staffers aren't ready to recommend that the BAR approve the project yet. He said Gilbane has yet to come up a suitable plan for the facades of the proposed building or the parking deck, which would sit on Keowee Trail near the Lake Hartwell shoreline and Abernathy Park.

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Corps of Engineers spokesman Billy Birdwell said Friday that the Corps is still considering Gilbane's request to build its parking deck on the Corps' easement behind the Shops, but company officials have told the BAR they expect to get that.

Friday's session was the second of three geared toward coordinating policy with everyone involved in Clemson's planning and economic development efforts. The group will meet again Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Follow Mike Eads on Twitter @MikeEads_AIM.