City Council Look for Solutions to “Food Desert” in Downtown Charleston

City Council Look for Solutions to “Food Desert” in Downtown Charleston

The Charleston City Council is under pressure from the local community to come up with solutions to what is now considered a “food desert” on the east side of the Charleston peninsula. The developers of the site where Bi-Lo formerly resided are negotiating with the city planners to raze the current building that once housed the grocery store, and replace it with a tall mixed-use building complex.  Part of the developer’s plans would include an apartment complex with a parking garage, and a grocery store and pharmacy on the first floor of the site.

McAlister Development Co. and the Peninsula Co., the owners of the former Bi-Lo grocery site, say it’s the only plan that makes sense financially to incorporate a grocery store into a mixed-use development.  City officials agree for the most part but are concerned about a request by the developers for generous zoning exceptions and a fast tract approval by City Council.

When Bi-Lo abruptly pulled out of the site, which has been owned by the developers for a year and a half, the community was stunned. Mayor Tecklenburg released a multistep plan in response to the concerns of a “food desert” for the east side of the city, which included a produce market at Hampstead Square.   Anthony McAlister, one of the owners stated in the Post & Courier, “what’s been interesting to us is that after Bi-Lo surprised us and the city with an early move, that we haven’t had 10, 15 grocery stores begging to be on that site.” Mr. McAlister added “what we’ve learned is that the demographics are not there.  Two stores have failed, and you sell all these cranes and you think all this residential is being built, but that’s not what’s going on up there.”

McAlister recently presented its plan to the City Council which included:

  • Density to include no less than 450 apartments;
  • Up to a maximum of 120,000 square feet of commercial space;
  • Zoning for a “hospitality use,” at the back of the property, which may be used by the city as a park;
  • Request for the city to subsidize the cost of a parking deck;
  • Proposal to build a five story building over retail facilities facing Meeting Street, and a nine story setback, with permission to build to “bonus stories” if part of the property becomes a park; and
  • An expedited approval process by City Council and real estate tax incentives.

City officials will meet again with the developers in early part of 2017 to consider the zoning requests and the plan overall as it seeks to provide convenient grocery shopping for the residents on the east side of Charleston.

Source: Post & Courier, “Will city pay high price for groceries?’ December 22, 2016, by Abigail Darlington

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