Charleston, South Carolina is an historic city, and it's also a growing city.
The collision of those two factors may contribute to continued battles over development, zoning and historic preservation for years to come.
The Charleston Metro Chamber's Economic Forecast, released last month, shows that the region's growth won't slow any time soon.
"With the emergence of top international companies such as Boeing, Google, Mercedes, Amazon, BMW and now Volvo, the Charleston region is much more diversified," Mary Graham, Chief Advancement Officer for the Charleston Metro Chamber, said when this year's forecast was released.
That diversification means new jobs, additional people and the need for more housing. While much of the growth has occurred in areas such as North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant (which is seeing its own battles over growth and development), new jobs, many in the high-tech and health care sectors, are also coming to the Charleston Peninsula.
While some new development projects have largely flown under the radar — such as Evening Post Industries' (the parent company of the Post & Courier newspaper) Courier Square development — others, such as the Sergeant Jasper redevelopment project, have drawn opposition from historic preservation groups.
That opposition has led to a legal battle between Sergeant Jasper's owners, The Beach Co., and Charleston's Board of Architectural Review (BAR). One national legal expert said these types of disputes are all too common.
“There are 1,000 variations of these historic preservation disputes around the country,” Roger Pilon, founder and director of Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies, told Palmetto Business Daily.
Pilon said it is an issue of private property rights.
“The essential issue is about property rights — what we are talking about here are regulatory takings," said Pilon. "That is, reducing the value of someone’s property through regulations that have various and complex criteria."
The Beach Co. sued the Charleston BAR after the board rejected several of the company's concepts for the Sergeant Jasper redevelopment, alleging the BAR's review process was "arbitrary and capricious." Last week, stakeholders in the project reached an impasse in court-ordered mediation, and now await a ruling by Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, Jr.
Pilon said he can understand why the Beach Co. is fighting the BAR’s decision because, he said, the board is claiming authority it probably doesn’t have.
“This commission would like to impose restrictions that the laws, strictly speaking, do not allow on this developer, they just don’t want to pay for it,” Pilon said.
He said the BAR should not be able to impose such restrictions on a developer without paying for the imposition of those regulations. Pilon said communities across the country seek to prevent owners from building on their property because the public wants the view they get as a result of preventing the development.
Pilon said this creates a sort of "reverse welfare state situation.”
“In other words, the public gets the good," Pilon said. "It is all off-budget, the municipality doesn’t have to raise taxes to pay for that good because the costs of it are all borne by the individual who is prohibited from using his property as he otherwise would be allowed to do. That in a nutshell is what regulatory takings is all about. Free goods to the public paid for by an individual.”
Pilon said historic preservation is just “one species” of zoning that is used across the country to control a small minority.
“It is a vicious species, truth be told, of majoritarian tyranny over the minority. The people want something, they don’t want to pay for it, so they take it,” he said.