Union Pier redevelopment breakdown, historical foundation weighs in on proposal

SC Ports Authority and its partner Lowe Development officially submitted a proposal for redeveloping Union Pier to the City of Charleston.
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 3:30 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2023 at 8:14 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - At the end of January, the South Carolina Ports Authority and its partner Lowe Development officially submitted a proposal for redeveloping Union Pier to the City of Charleston.

The nearly 65 acres would be transformed into a mixed-use neighborhood with green space, housing and some office and hotel space. The goals include improving mobility on the peninsula, blending into the city, enhancing stormwater systems and creating coastal resiliency.

The proposal is the first of a review process by the city’s planning commission, technical review board and city council before an official plan is approved and work begins. The port authority reminds people that these numbers are flexible and could change throughout the process.

The total project area is 64.14 acres with different parcels for different uses. The total pier, marsh, wetland and open water area is 27.81 acres, or 43.36% of the total. The proposal also includes a mixed-use development portion with a suggested 279,000-square-feet of retail and commercial space, 270,000-square-feet of office space, space for 600 rooms of hotel accommodations and 1,600 units of housing.

The housing is set to include at least 50 workforce housing units. Workforce housing is not yet clearly defined in the document, but at a fall meeting, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg in a quote explained:

“By affordable, I mean for folks that have normal working jobs in our city like police officers and teachers, offering an array of residential product so that we have a good diverse mix of families, workers and citizens that can live in in this Union Pier development.”

After reviewing the proposal, Historic Charleston Foundation President and CEO Winslow Hastie says he is excited about the development but has a few concerns with the current ideas. He thinks the land can be used more creatively and wants guarantees about the sizes of buildings fitting in to the cityscape.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity and we don’t feel it’s been explored enough,” Hastie says.

The ports did hold a series of public meetings in 2022 to inform people about and receive feedback on the pier redevelopment.

“We felt like that really wasn’t the amount of community engagement and outreach that was necessary for a project of this magnitude. So, we’ve been continuing to chat with the port,” Hastie says.

Some of his concerns lie in how tall the proposed buildings will be, thinking that six and seven story buildings back-to-back don’t fit in with the peninsula. Within city height restrictions, there are diagrams in the proposal for buildings ranging from three to seven stories. Hastie also expressed wishes for more dynamic green space.

“We have a great precedent starting under Mayor Riley’s leadership of sort of an emerald necklace around the edges of the peninsula, right. And so we’ve got waterfront park, just to the south of this. And we’ve always known that at some point, the future development would include some waterfront, open space, which is very significant and important, and we see that they are proposing that, but we think there needs to be a significantly more open space,” Hastie explains.

Hastie goes on to say that the project could be a great asset to the city and wants people who live in and use the area to stay involved through the city approval process to make sure their voices stay heard.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity for us to see a great project and this location, we’ve always known this area was ultimately going to get redeveloped. We’re not against the development of the project. We’re concerned about how quickly it’s going through. We’re concerned the city is actually not prepared to evaluate the appropriateness of this development, because it hasn’t really done its own planning and visioning for this project,” Hastie says.

The proposal does have an extensive drainage plan attached to it on how to address stormwater runoff and build conscious of sea level critical line and flooding. The proposal remains open to conducting and including a traffic study if asked to do so during any city review. There are no minimum or maximum parking standards for the properties in the development. The proposal suggests an emphasis on sustainable and resilient practices like use of bicycles, busing, water ferries and taxis.

Hastie says overall, he is looking forward to being involved in the redevelopment of union pier and wants to make sure the process is taken slowly and deliberately to create a space that benefits everyone who lives in and visits the Lowcountry.

The South Carolina Ports Authority provided the following statement about proposed plan submission and future of Union Pier:

Through multiple public engagement sessions in the fall, we received hundreds of public comments that helped shape the PUD (Planned Unit Development). With the PUD now submitted to the city, the public will continue to have numerous opportunities to weigh in during the city’s public process.

With public and city input, the 70-acre Union Pier site will be developed into a mixed-use space that will be enjoyed by city residents for years to come. It will provide public waterfront access, fulfilling the longtime vision of the city to redevelop the property and extend Waterfront Park. It will provide more greenspaces for public enjoyment and a beautiful park over the piers, opening up more of the waterfront to the people of Charleston.

It will create more commercial spaces and housing on the peninsula, including much-needed affordable and workforce housing options. The designs will complement the neighborhood and blend with the city’s texture.

The redevelopment will address ways to improve traffic, walkability, parking and flooding issues, while also honoring iconic assets like the Bennett Rice Mill Facade and Mosquito Fleet.

The revenue from this sale will help fund port infrastructure projects. SC Ports moves goods for port-dependent businesses throughout the state and supports tens of thousands of jobs in South Carolina. Investing in port infrastructure is critical to remaining competitive as the 8th largest container port in the country.