DINA panel decodes city approval process, DI land use
Last week’s Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) meeting at Church of the Holy Cross hosted a panel of guest speakers with a plethora of combined experience working with local government entities, in hopes of informing residents about how a proposed development becomes a reality.
Serving as the program’s main speakers were Vice President of Community Services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association Jane Baker; Daniel Island Architectural Review Board Administrator Mary Stewart Sutton; Charleston Planning Commission member Angie Johnson; and Senior Advisor to Mayor John Tecklenburg on Built Environment Josh Martin. The panel answered various questions posed by DINA President Marie Delcioppo and audience members about how the local government, specifically the different land development and zoning committees, work. For the first time in DINA history, the program was streamed live on Facebook, attracting about 400 viewers, in addition to the full house at the meeting.
As Martin explained, the City of Charleston has many different levels of committees and review boards pertaining to land development and zoning. What everything comes down to, he added, is the purpose of application and the city’s response.
At the very top level is the Planning Commission, which is the “chair of the planning role” for the city, stated Martin. After that, which committee decision is needed depends solely on the project.
“It’s the recommending body to City Council, so any policies that would change within the city in regards to development or the development review process would go through Planning Commission and City Council,” he said.
According to Johnson, who is an appointed member of the Planning Commission, their role is to primarily deal with rezoning, subdivision requisitions, ordinance amendments, conceptual plans, street names—really anything regarding planning. They base all of this on the City of Charleston’s “Comprehensive Century V Plan.”
“[The plan] is something that has recently gone through an update and it is something that any resident of the city should be familiar with,” said Johnson, a Daniel Island resident who has served on the Planning Commission since 2008. “I get a lot of questions like, ‘Why did your board approve this specific subdivision, building or apartment?’ And really, there are only certain things that come through our board.”
When it comes to needing an exception to city zoning ordinances, the Board of Zoning Appeals Zoning (BZA-Z) and Board of Zoning Appeals Site Design (BZA-SD) are the committees to handle variances, explained Martin.
“You may read about those applications going throughout the community where someone wants a variance to take out a tree or to do something different,” said Martin. “These are quasi-judicial boards that will go through the process of making exceptions and deviations from the zoning ordinance—the ordinance that governs all the various properties within the city.”
By the virtue of the Development Agreement with the city, Daniel Island essentially has its own zoning ordinance, continued Martin. The island has its own zoning map, set of rules and procedures which take precedence over the city’s zoning ordinance. Before plans ever go to the city’s Design Review Board (DRB), the Daniel Island ARB has to approve it first.
And in some cases when projects fall on the streets outside of the city’s purview, explained Baker, they do not have to seek approval from the DRB.
“The DRB for the City of Charleston only has purview over seven streets on Daniel Island,” said Baker. “It’s not every street on the island that would have to go through that review process.”
In fact, the city only has influence for projects that fall on Daniel Island Drive, Daniel Landing Drive, Fairchild Street, Pier View Street, Island Park Drive, River Landing Drive and Seven Farms Drive, added Martin.
“It’s a pretty large portion of the island, so anything that is essentially outside of the more residential neighborhoods, all of those structures are typically going before the Design Review Board at the city level after they are successful at the local DI ARB level,” said Martin.
Although the Daniel Island ARB has a large role in getting projects approved on the island, their job is to specifically review the architectural elements, added Baker, such as the massing, height scale, color, landscaping, lighting, etc.
“Let’s start with a commercial building as an example,” said Baker. “Once we give conceptual approval, then that property owner generally takes that through the city process. Let’s say they’re in the DRB corridor. Let’s say it’s a project that’s on Seven Farms Drive—a commercial project. They would have to go to the city’s DRB for architectural comments and height scale mass for that building to be approved.”
Something that is particularly interesting about many of these boards is they are comprised essentially of citizen volunteers, added Martin, specifically the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR). The BAR oversees the downtown of the City of Charleston, the nation’s first historic district, he explained.
“We have two different subareas of that,” said Martin. “We have a BAR Small that deals with smaller projects, which is referred to as the BARS and we have the BAR Large that deals with large scale projects, such as new hotels or some of the new things being built downtown.”
Lastly, there is the city’s Technical Review Committee (TRC). According to Martin, the TRC is a multi-departmental staff whose job is to review development applications from various angles.
“For example, traffic and transportation are looking at cross walks and route development designs,” said Martin. “We have ADA coordinating to make sure all of the new structures in the City of Charleston or any renovations are meeting accessibility guidelines. The TRC (is) kind of that on the ground, staff level who reviews site-specific plans.”
This all may seem like a lot to process, but luckily, DINA publishes land use and zoning updates, including meeting times for the committees mentioned above, each week in The Daniel Island News, making it easier for residents to keep up with the island’s development projects.
“Anything that’s going through these committees that Josh just walked through that pertains to Daniel Island, it’s listed in The Daniel Island News,” said Delcioppo. “All of those meetings are open to the public, with public comment, with the exception of TRC, which is open to the public, but you can’t make comment.”
For specifics on a project, visit DINA’s website at https://dineighborhoodassociation.org/land-use-and-zoning/.
A number of other local officials provided reports at the Feb. 6 meeting, including Lt. James Byrne of Team 5 on Daniel Island, Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis, and Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler. Charleston City Councilman Gary White, who represents Daniel Island and portions of the Cainhoy peninsula and downtown Charleston, outlined plans for the new Daniel Island Recreation Center. To view the video of the meeting in its entirety, visit the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association’s Facebook page.
The next DINA meeting will be held on May 1.
At the recent DINA meeting, Jane Baker (JB) and Mary Stewart Sutton (MSS) of the Daniel Island Property Owners Association presented the top four Architectural Review Board questions that they hear from residents. Below are the questions, along with their answers.
Q1: Does colored tape on trees mean that all of those trees are being cut down?
JB: We get that question a lot. The answer is no. It just means that the trees are being surveyed. It’s just part of the development process that the city requires. No, when you see tape it does not necessarily mean the tree is coming down.
Q2: Why does the ARB approve all of these new apartment complexes?
MSS: The ARB doesn’t decide on the use. It’s only the architecture, landscape, color and signage. The Master Zoning Plan text dictates what uses are allowed on Daniel Island and where on the island they are allowed.
Q3: Why did the ARB allow my neighbor to paint their house that color?
JB: Our design guidelines suggest a color palette that references coastal colors - Lowcountry, Historic Charleston colors, but there is not a true book that you go to to pull your color. We think in 15 years, with all of the homes that have been built, we have done a pretty good job with the color palettes with creating really beautiful neighborhoods. That does not mean we have not made some booboos over the years. We’re the first to say there are certain colors on homes or trim that you may see today that we would not necessarily approve of in the future on either a new home, or if that homeowner wanted to repaint their trim electric blue.
Q4: I want to add a deck on my home. Do I have to get ARB permission?
MSS: Yes, you do. All architectural and landscaping modifications or improvements need to be approved by the ARB. The majority of these modifications are approved at a staff level. Keep in mind that major renovations need ARB approval before they can go to the city to get permitted as well.