Major changes pending for the former Food Lion site

by Bill Davis | News Editor

For years, the Sycamore Center shopping center on St. Andrews Boulevard has been, let’s be polite, a bit of an eyesore. Unlined parking, aisles and aisles of it, have stood as a stark contrast to the rejuvenation of the area.

A dead Ryan’s Steakhouse lays on one side, while a former grocery store has become a boat yard. Even the liquor store and check cashing business couldn’t stay open. The CVS ambles along, filling prescriptions and selling makeup.

About the only sign of sustainable life has been the opposite strip on the plot, where Jersey Mike’s sells subs, China Dragon dishes up dumplings, and Hair Topic has all your wig needs.

All that might change, if Gramling Brothers, the local development company that owns the site, is allowed to pull off a major redo. It has plans to build a shopping center at the front of the lot, where it touches St. Andrews, incorporating the old Hess gas station/current used car lot into the plan.

The Jersey Mike’s strip will stay in place, but everything else would be razed for four- and five-story apartment buildings, replete with a possible parking deck. There would be a place for a “specialty” grocery store – which may be code for (squee!) a Trader Joe’s!

All of this would overlook a redone Ackerman Park, which the city is interested in doing, along with improving the Sycamore-St. Andrews intersection where cars already regularly back up to turn left in front of the post office.

The city’s involvement underscores the whiff it swung at the chance to redevelop the former Kmart site on Savannah Highway into anything other than yet another car dealership, and its hopes to replicate the success found at the Savannah Highway Harris Teeter site a few blocks before it across the street from Avondale.

Additionally, it could have ancillary benefits like reducing traffic, by putting hundreds of commuters closer in to jobs on the peninsula so they aren’t choking highways 17 and 61.

Sound too good to be true? Doubtful after years of rumored improvements there?

Well, there is a fly in the ointment. One of the leaseholders is dragging its heels signing off on the project, which could delay the project, according to the broker in charge of the property, Mikell Harper.

What if the city’s Design Review Board drops the ball on its appearance, like it has done for the Westedge mixed-use, mega-chonk overlooking the Ashley River from the peninsula? (Nice Howard Johnson, guys.)

There would be no requirement for affordable housing units, as it lays outside the city’s “mixed use” zoning area.

And there is concern amongst the abutting neighborhoods that it could create more problems than it could solve. While many in the area would welcome any improvement, there are some concerns that it could be too big, too good, for the peace of the area.

Already, residents have posted parking signs up and down Avondale Avenue, asking Mex1 Coastal Cantina revelers to not park in their front yards, but to leave their cars in the Ryan’s parking lot.

That could be alleviated by … wait for it … the proposed parking deck.

Longtime Avondale Neighborhood Association president Katherine Anderson recently attended a meeting with other presidents and members of Gramling’s team and city officials. At the meeting she says, “conceptual plans” were presented that showed new stores along the road and a parking deck.

“I like the idea, as long as it does not impact the area negatively,” Anderson says. She says the city further talked about redoing the skatepark and other amenities, adding that she understood that “nothing was set in stone.”

City Councilman Peter Shahid, who represents that part of West Ashley, says that the plan would be “a nice boost.” He adds that all the reactions he’s heard for residents is that “of course, they want something done in this area, but there are still a lot of moving parts.”

City planning czar Jacob Lindsey says whatever final plans emerge, the city will make sure it will fit into the area’s nature, versus the oversized storage facility further down St. Andrews Boulevard in the county that riled so many locals when it was first constructed.

“The West Ashley Master Plan calls for redevelopment of sites just like this,” says Lindsey, and would call for transportation sites like a bus stop to be incorporated for further traffic reduction.

So, a dead, grey parking lot could be transformed into a vital shopping and living area ringing a city park with a farmer’s market, new playground equipment, a redone skatepark, and improved soccer fields?

What could go wrong?

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