Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review roundly criticized a proposed seven-story apartment building at the site of a former maritime union hall March 23, calling it “boring” and “monotonous” before unanimously rejecting it.
The panel pointed to the design of the proposed 424-unit development at 1142 Morrison Drive as too massive with no clear entrance and said it should be broken up.
LMC, the multifamily division of homebuilding giant Lennar Corp., wants to build the structure on the 4.5-acre property where the International Longshoremen’s Association operated for the better part of two decades.
The dockworkers’ union decided to move its meeting space and offices to a site off Leeds Avenue in North Charleston in 2019 after it outgrew the nearly 32,000-square-foot upper peninsula facility.
A representative of LMC said the company would meet with designers to consider the next step.
“I appreciate some of the comments the BAR had, but I’m not sure if the results for some of the things they requested might make housing more unaffordable,” said Jeff Harris, division president.
Harris told the board he thought the proposal was consistent with the city’s land-use plan for the peninsula’s growth district. He also said the project would include 43 affordable housing units with monthly rents of $1,175. Market rate apartments would be about $2,400, he said.
The developer also thought the building’s design was in line with similar nearby projects for its height and mass.
Others, besides BAR members, disagreed.
Representatives of the Preservation Society of Charleston and Historic Charleston Foundation panned the project for its massive scale along the length of more than three football fields.
“This application is wildly out of place,” said Justin Schwebler with Historic Charleston. “We adamantly oppose the project on height, mass and scale and ask they they totally rethink their application.”
Erin Minnigan of the Preservation Society of Charleston called the height appropriate but said it could be modulated to add more to the skyline.
She also noted, among other faults, the facades appeared repetitive and the south side of the building, which includes the garage in the rear, will be highly visible and “look like a box.”
Harris told the board the apartment building would be “of the same vernacular” as other projects on the upper peninsula. That brought a strong rebuttal, with BAR officials saying the design looked like many other nondescript buildings being constructed in the city.
“This is just one huge footprint that snakes across the site,” board member Jay White said. “It’s clearly the same boring building.”
The Morrison Drive property has not changed hands, but it is under contract to be sold once the developer wins approval to move forward. Commercial real estate firm Shoreline International has listed the property for $20.19 million.
In February, the BAR was set to take up the proposed demolition of the existing structure, but it was determined the building, constructed in 2002, is not old enough to be considered historic under the city’s guidelines, according to Charleston planning director Robert Summerfield.
Harris told the board LMC would incorporate art or photographs inside the new structure to reflect dockworkers’ contributions to the Charleston community.
Architect Harvey Gantt, a Charleston native who became the first Black student to enroll at Clemson University and the first Black mayor of Charlotte, designed the $3.8 million building to be reflective of the maritime industry.
Site plans presented to the city show a 620-space parking deck behind the living quarters as well as retail, fitness and co-working space along the streetfront. A courtyard, two outdoor plazas and a pool also are part of the plans.
The union hall site is almost adjacent to another apartment development that LMC is constructing just to the north.
The multifamily builder paid $10.5 million in 2018 for about 3 acres at 1310 Meeting Street Road next to Santi’s Restaurante Mexicano. LMC is developing 303 units in a new project called Cormac.
The studio to two-bedroom apartments, with a rooftop terrace on the eighth floor, are slated to open in December, Harris said.
It’s LMC’s first apartment community in South Carolina. The company operates 72 others across the U.S., according to its website.