Contrary to what preservation-minded visitors may think, the

Contrary to what preservation-minded visitors may think, the charming historic section of Charleston, South Carolina, makes up a mere six of the city’s 100 square miles. Outlying areas of Charleston have a far more suburban character, and some are burdened by shopping centers that have gone into decline.

Planning Director Timothy J. Keane is now coordinating efforts to create relatively dense, walkable centers in five of those areas — conducting charrettes in which citizens help draw up a vision for “Gathering Places.”

“Call them TODs [transit-oriented developments] if you like,” Keane says. “We are using ‘Gathering Place’ because it is a term suggested by a citizen as more user-friendly. Better than ‘node’ or some acronym.”

Keane will soon give the City Council a charrette-generated plan for McLeod Village — an 80-acre village to be built on James Island, about 10 minutes by car from downtown. Sixty of those acres are occupied by deteriorating shopping centers, and the remaining 20 acres are undeveloped. Transportation engineer Rick Hall of Tallahassee designed a two-lane roundabout at the village’s key intersection.

“We have targeted the ‘low-hanging fruit’ — suburban places where we have grayfield sites or well-located greenfield sites — for these Gathering Places,” Keane observes. McLeod Village and the other four Gathering Places — West Ashley Circle, Johns Island Village Center, Ashley Plaza, and Avondale Point — would each be built on land currently divided among multiple owners.

Minneapolis architect Peter Musty was the lead urban designer on the McLeod Village plan, which includes short-, mid-, and long-term actions needed to turn the vision into reality. One part of a new zoning ordinance being introduced by the City is regulations governing the Gathering Places. “These new regulations will have no density limitations and will be very permissive when it comes to land uses,” Keane says. “The regulations will be prescriptive when it comes to design. We will assign design standards based upon street frontage. It is a whole new way of approaching zoning.” For more information, see www.