Organizations voicing concerns over Union Pier plan

Several organizations are voicing their concerns about the new Union Pier plan.
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 5:49 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 7:12 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Several organizations are voicing their concerns about the new Union Pier plan, saying it is moving too quickly, there are still way too many questions about the project and the plan is not reflective of what the community wants.

At the end of January, the South Carolina Ports Authority officially submitted a proposal for redeveloping Union Pier to the city of Charleston. Union Pier is located on the eastern portion of the peninsula and runs along Washington and Concord Streets, close to the South Carolina Aquarium.

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.

Preservation Society of Charleston President and CEO Brian Turner says there are still a lot of questions with this project and it is going to be important to look at the actual text in the proposal, not just pictures provided.

“Charleston is going to inherit whatever happens on there and we’re going to have to maintain this site long-term and it’s in a very vulnerable place right on the coastline,” Turner says. “So this is very important to get right.”

Turner says he is hearing a number of concerns and questions from the community like proposed infrastructure, the financing plan since it unclear what the responsibility of taxpayers will be to pay for the project, elevating the site 16 feet along Concord Street and what that does as far as stormwater runoff.

Faith Rivers James, the executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, is also expressing concerns about the environment impacts of what to come.

“I think it’s really important that we have a lot of green space,” James says. “This is a very vulnerable site and the idea of having a waterfront that is open to everyone is fantastic. Our challenge is to make sure that a lot of that open space is on the other side of what we call the ‘critical line’ where we’re all able to enjoy the parks.”

James adds it is not just a challenge of hotel rooms versus housing units, it is the building space itself.

“With such large buildings, we’re afraid that they won’t leave enough room for open space,” James says. “So we’re hopeful that the port will insist that we have much more open space. We were encouraged that the city staff has actually already suggested that they need more open space in addition to what they’re providing for some of the green infrastructure.”

There are diagrams in the proposal for buildings ranging from three to seven stories.

The proposal Is still in its first review by the City of Charleston’s Technical Review Committee. From there it will go to the city’s Planning Commission, which will then offer its opinion of the project to city council. Only once the council approves the plans will construction begin.

Turner thinks the process is moving too quickly. He is hearing the project could be before city council by June and that’s just not enough time for voting members to listen to the community’s input.

“That’s a very aggressive timeline and very concerning to the public who’s just learning about this,” Turner says. “We feel that the city council has it within their right to push pause on the process and to demand more information before it votes.”

The proposed redevelopment of Union Pier will get its first major public meeting on Thursday since the official proposal, when the Planning Commission convenes a special informational session at the Main Library in downtown Charleston. It will be the first of three planned information-only meetings (meaning no votes will be taken). Thursday’s meeting will deal with resilience and stormwater management. It is set to start at 5 p.m. in the second floor auditorium at 68 Calhoun St.

The housing is set to include at least 50 workforce housing units. Charleston Mayor John Teckleburg says that is too few and agrees the plan needs some changes.

“It’s too tall and too dense, with too many hotel rooms, too much block-sized development and too little affordable housing,” Mayor Tecklenburg stated in an opinion editorial.

The proposal has 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.

The South Carolina Ports Authority did not have anyone available for an interview but provided the following statement from SC Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin about the project.

SC Ports chose to entitle the Union Pier property and create a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to create the best possible redevelopment plan for the benefit of all who live here.

Through multiple public engagement sessions in the fall, we received hundreds of public comments that helped shape the PUD, and we continue to welcome comments on the proposal.

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. The proposed plan and corresponding sketch are reflective of a Charleston feel and neighborhood that we can all be proud of.

The plan calls for more public waterfront access, more green spaces, a beautiful park over the piers, more commercial spaces and housing on the peninsula — including much-needed workforce housing, more connected streets and walkways, and significant flooding solutions for the site and surrounding neighborhoods.

The plan also presents an opportunity to use the proven methods of Tax Increment Financing and a Municipal Improvement District, which would help fund public infrastructure and maintenance on the site without additional burden to taxpayers.

The submitted PUD is now at the start of a rigorous vetting process with the city — first with the Technical Review Committee, then Planning Commission, and finally, with City Council.

The public will continue to have numerous opportunities to weigh in during the city’s public process. We welcome specific feedback shared directly with the team at

Please join us in making something that we can all enjoy for years to come.”

James encourages any community member to share their opinions of what this project should look like and include.

“You don’t want to look back and think that you could have had an impact,” James says. “This is the opportunity for the citizens of Charleston to have a say, finally, for the first time as to what this part of our waterfront could look like. It needs to be a world-class waterfront, but it doesn’t need to be Miami – it needs to be Charleston

If you would like to share your thoughts on the Union Pier plan, click here.