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West Ashley Revitalization Keeps on Truckin’

But is a Truck Parts Store the Best West Ashley Can Do?

truckin


July 6, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor

Don’t get the wrong idea. 4 Wheel Parts is a great store, located at the corner of Wappoo Road and Savannah Highway.

It’s busy. It’s air-conditioning is on full blast. Its blacked-out, tricked out 4×4 add-ons and equipment on the walls look cool as all get out, even to the Prius-driving crowd.

The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient. There are a lot of car lots above and below the store’s address.

According to Meredith Demetre, one of the “Ladies of DuWapp” local organizers, it has done a “great job in its landscaping,” and it’s a huge improvement over the dead empty pharmacy and convenience store it replaced, she said.

It’s just that …

“It isn’t “exactly” what was envisioned at a week-long planning event that was held around the corner at the former St. Andrews High site. An event, mind you, that brought together the collective might and experience of both the city and county planning departments.

That effort even drew a renowned retired urban planner down from his perch in North Carolina; a man local planners called an “intersection whisperer.”

What was envisioned for that corner was a multi-story storage center with a first floor which was composed of street-facing local stores and coffee shops. Across the street, where a vegetable shed was torn down and where an ultra-green title loan cinderblock pillbox still stands, was to be even more ambitious combinations of work, shop, and play.

This is a far cry from city planning director’s stated goal of creating a corridor of “maker” manufacturing along Wappoo Road, like the Rio Bertolini fresh Italian pasta makers that have taken over the old hardware spot.

Multiple city officials snarked that the corner is in the county, and that they could only do so much. Distinctions were made between the city “steering” and “rowing.” The county released a statement speaking to the importance of community involvement and governmental cooperation in the planning process in the DuPont/Wappoo area.

As such this corner may serve as a reminder of what government can and can’t do in revitalizing West Ashley, the top priority in current Mayor John Tecklenburg’s political agenda.

So, should citizens keep taking part in the process, or should they temper their expectations?

A member of the 4 Wheel Parts management team declined to comment for this story.

While not a perfect outcome, Demetre said she still believes in the planning process. And she said that over a longer span of time improving the city and county’s design  and development standards along Savannah Highway will have a big payoff.

Jacob Lindsey, Director of the City of Charleston Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, defended the process, saying that the city’s West Ashley revitalization plan was modeled after the successful peninsular revitalization efforts dating back to 1999.

“That 1999 downtown master planning process was so well done that we’re still operating under it now, because it still works,” said Lindsey. And like that 18-year-old process, the city has once again employed the best national urban planners to guide the process in West Ashley, he said.

Lindsey pointed to a peninsular success like Waterfront Park as an example of the kind of game-changing improvements West Ashley could enjoy from the process.

While Lindsey stressed the importance of community and volunteer board involvement in  the success on the peninsula, the process was anchored by then-Mayor Joe Riley, who had received national acclaim for his urban planning acumen.

City Councilman Bill Moody found it “disheartening” that the big fancy project envisioned for the corner didn’t come to fruition.

Body also bristled at the steer/row conundrum, saying he wanted Mayor Tecklenburg to do both. The time to be “reactive” in the process has passed, said Moody, adding that he likes to “steer and row.”

Moody said had the city not been proactive in his council district, West Ashley wouldn’t be in line for a new park off Wappoo Road at a former radio station site, among other recent projects unveiled and begun in West Ashley.

County Councilman Vic Rawl’s revitalization efforts steer clear from what he sees as the biggest mistake of the past: placing new development too close to the peninsula. He said that has led to traffic always flowing toward the peninsula, increasing the problem.

“The best move in planning made in the past 25 years was the decision to build an East Cooper Hospital as far away from the Ravenel Bridge as they did,” said Rawl, who said a better spread of development resulted.

Moody’s West Ashley counterpart on Council, Peter Shahid said the process needs more time, as long as it’s followed by lots of work.

Shahid, who leads the West Ashley Revitalization Commission, pointed to the hullaballoo that erupted over plans to build a mega-gas station at the intersection of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Old Towne Road as proof of a community that’s paying attention.

Shahid’s commission will meet next July 12 at The Schoolhouse, the converted elementary school at the corner of Magnolia Road and Sycamore Avenue, where regional transportation issues will be discussed and a presentation will be made by the planning company the city has hired to help in the process.

So, for now West Ashley will just have to keep on truckin’.

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