Rivers Avenue Connectivity Plan
A study of brownfields along an important segment of Rivers Avenue was conducted in 2019. The study was funded by a grant from the US Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Area-wide Brownfields Planning program. This effort was undertaken as a first step in addressing a legacy of environmental impacts as recommended by the 2014 Neck Area Master Plan.
Specifically, the study sought to set a successful path forward for redevelopment of a mile-long corridor along Rivers Avenue where multiple brownfield contamination is compounded by other economic and social issues.
The Rivers Avenue Connectivity study identifies brownfield (or contaminated) sites along the Rivers Avenue corridor between McMillan Avenue and Burton Lane. With input from local residents and stakeholders, the project team developed conceptual plans for improvements along Rivers and Reynolds Avenues to enhance residents’ access to goods, services and transportation. Strategic actions are proposed to facilitate formal assessments, clean up and eventual redevelopment of focus sites along the corridor.
1. What Is A Brownfield?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant”. Some examples of potential brownfield sites are former auto repair shops, gas stations, dry cleaners and industrial sites. Many of these sites are left vacant or are underutilized. They can pose a challenge to redevelopment by property owners, especially when in proximity to residences, schools, or businesses.
EPA’s Brownfields Area-Wide Planning program is designed to help communities confront the local environmental and public health challenges related to the existence of brownfields. Planning for brownfields encourages community -based involvement in site assessment, cleanup, and reuse planning, as well as overall neighborhood revitalization.
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2. Who's Involved?
The BCDCOG, as sponsor of the study, engaged a multi-disciplinary team led by Stantec to examine redevelopment potential of the brownfield sites throughout the planning study area.
Following the public involvement framework used to develop the 2014 Neck Area Master Plan, the BCDCOG collaborated with a cross-section of community stakeholders to form a Planning Advisory Committee. The Committee meet during key points of the study to provide feedback on activities and research findings. Members that participated represented:
- City of North Charleston’s Office of the Mayor
- City of North Charleston Planning and Zoning
- Charleston County Planning and Zoning Department
- City of Charleston Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability
- Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities
Community Involvement was a key objective of the Rivers Avenue Connectivity Study. The Planning Advisory Committee reached out to residents of the study area to identify challenges they encounter in accessing goods and services along the corridor. Participants were also asked to provide input on infrastructure and other needs for the community.
3. Public Input
Topic-focused stakeholder meetings were held with various representatives of utility service and infrastructure providers; public safety and social services agencies; the real estate and development industry; economic development professionals; property owners and neighborhood representatives; and environmental justice and community groups. While Stakeholders identified the pressure of rising housing costs as a threat to the community, they also noted that having affordable multi-story housing, access to fresh food, and available office and retail space were future opportunities.
An initial Project Introduction and Public Input meeting was held in April of 2019 at the Gussie Green community center to introduce project area residents to the study’s purpose and to the existence of brownfields and related issues. Attendees were asked to provide input on community priorities such as housing, recreation, modes of mobility, and community services. Attendees also participated in a visual preference survey and identified what activities are needed within the corridor, as well as what things need to be minimized.
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The general public and stakeholders were also invited to participate in a multi-day Community Design Charrette within the project area. During the charrette attendees were given an opportunity to provide input on redevelopment concepts. Key input received confirmed the observed lack of pedestrian connectivity and safety and need for new housing in the corridor. Conceptual drawings resulting from the charrettes are included in the plan to illustrate redevelopment recommendations.
4. Research and Related Efforts
The Rivers Avenue Connectivity Study spawns from a number of plans developed for this section of North Charleston, notably:
The Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC) Revitalization Plan (2010): https://lamcnc.org
Partnership for Prosperity – Master Plan for the Neck Area of Charleston and North Charleston (2014): http://www.neckprosperity.org
Lowcountry Local First and Metanoia- Better Block Reynolds Avenue (2018): https://lowcountrylocalfirst.org/betterblock
The Rivers Avenue Connectivity study was also informed by an earlier 2019 study conducted by an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Panel. The Panel was assembled to look at potential redevelopment scenarios for the former Navy Hospital site at the corner of Rivers and McMillan Avenues. https://southcarolina.uli.org/north-charleston-advisory-services-panel
A market study for the corridor was conducted by W-ZHA consultants to evaluate potential reuse demand and uses for identified brownfield sites along the corridor. This study focused on assessing the potential for successful development of land uses that will promote living-wage jobs by improving and increasing employment centers, business needs and other basic services in the project area. The study also the issue of rising housing costs and barriers to homeownership in the project area. Read the complete market study here:
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5. Brownfield Sites
It is estimated that over 100 brownfield sites exist in the project study area. Slightly less than half were evaluated during the study. Five focus sites are evaluated more in detail in the final plan.
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Cleanup grants and loan funds are available to assist property owners seeking to redevelop any identified brownfield site. EPA clean up grants can be applied for twice annually. The SC Department of Health and Environmental Control Brownfields Program makes available cleanup revolving loan funds to finance environmental cleanup and removal activities.
Tab 7 Key Recommendations of the Plan
The Brownfields Area-wide Plan: Rivers Avenue Connectivity Study can be read in its entirety here <insert link to full document>. Guiding principles in the Plan include:
- Allowing for a mix of land uses within the corridor and compact building design
- Creating a range of housing opportunities and choices for people of all income levels
- Creating a walkable community with safe accessibility to goods and services and transportation
- Fostering neighborhoods with a strong sense of place
- Preserving the open spaces, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
- Directly new development into the existing community to enhance the tax base
- Providing a variety of transportation choices
- Reducing barriers to smart growth development practices; and
- Encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration in development decision making
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Detailed illustrations of how these guiding principles can be achieved be adding new housing units, mixed use development, civic buildings and office space in several focus areas such as:
- Rivers and McMillan area
- Rivers and Cosgrove area
- Rivers and Reynolds Area
- Rivers and Carner Avenue area
- Accabee neighborhood
The key to achieving this vision for the Rivers Avenue Corridor is to develop the area holistically, not on a parcel-by-parcel basis to ensure broad connectivity, walkability, and vibrancy.