Buyer of port headquarters property requests zoning change

by Liz Segrist

The buyer contracted to purchase a piece of port property along Charleston Harbor is considering a rooftop feature and street-level activity for the future development.

An affiliate of Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises, which has owned and operated Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms for 25 years, plans to buy the S.C. State Ports Authority’s headquarters building and the adjacent Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar along Concord Street. The restaurant has a lease with the port through 2024.

The buyer contracted to buy the S.C. State Ports Authority’s headquarters in downtown Charleston is considering a rooftop feature and street-level activity for the future development.

The buyer contracted to buy the S.C. State Ports Authority’s headquarters in downtown Charleston is considering a rooftop feature and street-level activity for the future development.

Lowe Enterprises did not return requests for comment and the buyer has not publicized its plans for the 1.74-acre site, but it recently submitted a rezoning request to the city to make the development taller. Leucadia Coast Investor LLC is listed on the rezoning application documents.

The buyer wants to change the existing 50/25 zoning, which caps building height at 50 feet, to a 56/30V zoning ­— a district created specifically for properties within Zone V, according to Jacob Lindsey, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability. This will enable construction of a rooftop feature above the 50 foot cap.

Any buildings within Zone V risk damage from strong, hurricane-induced waves and therefore must be elevated to a certain height as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Typically, retail shops, restaurants or other uses are prohibited on the ground floor of these buildings; parking is often the exception.

If owners or developers are willing to add a public asset — a public green space, small park or vendor stands, for example — on the land or sidewalk around such a building, the city allows them to build taller than the 50-foot height cap. The developer can either add the equivalent amount of street-level space on the roof or build on up to 25% of the roof area.

“The V Zone means there is no good contribution along the sidewalk. No shops, no entrances. It creates sterile parking conditions, and that’s not how good cities work,” Lindsey said. “So we created the 56/30V zoning to incentivize building owners to contribute something back to the street life on the ground level. If a builder creates 400 square feet for vendors on the street level, they can then build 400 square feet on top of the building.”

These rooftop spaces often become offices, penthouse apartments, hotel rooms, gardens, patios or pools.

The Williams Terrace Senior Housing development near Gadsdenboro Park in downtown Charleston is an example of a building in a Zone V with a 56/30V height designation; the building has an enclosed community porch on the ground floor and a community room and rooftop terrace on its roof, Lindsey said.

In a statement, Lowe said the rezoning will enable the development “to engage the public on all sides of the property to complement the neighborhood while extending and enhancing the waterfront experience on the eastern part of the peninsula.”

“Building on the waterfront is tough, especially in the V zone,” Lindsey said. “This all points to the fact that we are going to work with the applicant through the review process to make sure the building creates a great public space on the street side and the waterfront side.”

The site is currently zoned light industrial, which allows numerous uses, including hotels. The buyer has not said whether it plans to demolish the existing building, from which the ports authority has operated since the 1970s.

The maritime agency announced plans in January to sell its downtown site and relocate to Mount Pleasant to consolidate all administrative operations into one building. The authority plans to build an office near the Wando Welch Terminal on port-owned land.

The buyer’s 120-day due diligence period will end in September, after which its $1 million deposit becomes nonrefundable. The sale is expected to close in October, pending state approvals and the inspection period.

The port has requested that the buyer lease the site back to the ports authority for 24 months while a new headquarters is built. Money from the sale will pay for the new office, Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said.

The port did not disclose the sale price, and as a pending real estate transaction, it is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, port spokeswoman Erin Dhand said.

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Liz Segrist

Staff Writer
Liz Segrist covers manufacturing, aerospace, ports, technology, startups and commercial real estate for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. Reach her at 843-849-3119 or via email.