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Board denies variance request from Port Royal project

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By Tony Kukulich

An initiative to build a community of townhomes in Port Royal hit a snag last week when the town’s design review board denied the developer’s request for a building ordinance variance.

“They’re going to have to revisit the aesthetics of that project and modify their design to accommodate our code,” said Town Manager Van Willis. “Once they do that and get approval, they can start construction. I imagine they probably want to start pretty quickly, in the next six months or so.”

The project, submitted by Charleston-based Equus Development Partners, envisions 122 townhomes to be constructed on both sides of North Paris Avenue between Preserve Avenue North and Venus Lane. There will be a mix of two- and three-story homes, though the majority are expected to have two stories. All of the units will be available for rent. The final number of units could fluctuate slightly as grading of the property is finalized.

“We’ve made a huge effort to save a lot of trees, so we’re working through that final grading right now,” said Ashleigh Dane from Equus.

The development will feature 24 separate buildings. The two-story units will have 1,203-square feet of living space with an additional 477-square feet for the garage and porch according to the design presented to the board. Each unit will feature a driveway and garage that will be accessed from the back of the building, allowing for parking up to two vehicles.

The parcel on which the project is planned was at one point part of the Millenium Development Agreement, an agreement signed around 2000 that resulted in the construction of The Preserve at Port Royal apartments and the Port Royal Center. That agreement expired in 2012. Equus purchased the property in 2021.

“That was the last piece of property that the Millenium Group sold,” Willis said.

Equus requested that the board approve a six-inch ground floor level, which varies from the town’s building code that requires an 18-inch ground floor level to create separation between the sidewalks and living areas. Dane argued that in addition to simplifying construction, reducing the number of steps would be beneficial to older renters.

“We want these to not only be for working age people to live in, but also for retired people,” she said. “The more steps we start adding, it just becomes cumbersome.”

Board members questioned the validity of that argument noting that the main living area in the homes are all located on the second floor. Reaching that space requires using a full flight of stairs, making the addition of two steps at the entranceway less consequential.

Noah Krepps, Port Royal planning director, asked for assistance from the board determining if the design of the entranceway qualified as a porch or a stoop as it did not appear to fit either definition. The five-by-eight-foot space was too small to qualify as a porch. The six-inch elevation above ground level was too low to qualify as a stoop. As a result, the design qualified as neither a porch or a stoop.

“To me the very nature of the stoop is that it’s raised,” said Boardmember Rob Merchant. “If it’s not a stoop, then it’s a porch, and it’s undersized.”

Failure of the entrance to comply with the requirements of either design element led to the board voting unanimously to deny the project’s request for variance.

“We feel fortunate to be developing a community in a unique and vibrant town and I greatly appreciated the board’s thoughtful feedback,” Dane said. “I was especially pleased by Bill Harris’s comments praising the design since he is the town architect. We are taking the feedback under consideration with our design team. We have enjoyed working with the town staff and the local community and look forward to being a part of the Town of Port Royal.”

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com

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