The Beach Company hopes Charleston, South Carolina Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council members will put an end to the legal saga between the real estate company and the Charleston Board of Architectural Review (BAR) over the controversial Sergeant Jasper project.
Earlier this week, the City of Charleston filed a motion asking Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, Jr. to reconsider his recent ruling that the BAR overstepped its authority in denying The Beach Company’s application to redevelop the apartment building.
In a letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council members on May 4, The Beach Company President and CEO John C. L. Darby urged the City Council to vote against an “unnecessary and costly appeal.”
“Today, I write you to urge the City Council not to authorize your counsel to appeal the order in the Jasper case,” Darby wrote. “Now is the time to avoid further delays and work towards a new elegant building at this location. Going forward, the BAR should concentrate on its duty, which is to review the exterior architectural appearance of buildings coming before it rather than weighing in on zoning issues such as height and density, which are only within the City Council’s purview.”
On April 20, Nicholson ruled the BAR’s decision to reject The Beach Company's plans to redevelop the now vacant Sergeant Jasper building was unconstitutional, adding that the BAR “does not have the authority to ’rezone’ property by denying applications based on traditional zoning matters, like height and density, when the proposed building meets the applicable zoning restrictions.”
Nicholson’s ruling came after the city and the real estate company reached an impasse in court-ordered mediation.
In its appeal, the city asked Nicholson to delay the effective date of his ruling until he could consider the city’s motion to reconsider.
“It is hard to believe the Trustees for the City of Charleston would ever transfer [their] powers to a non-elected volunteer group allowing them to dictate zoning matters without due process,” Darby wrote. “It is not necessary to appeal Judge Nicholson’s order so that City Council can ‘fix’ the BAR and unconstitutionally delegate to it the power to zone and rezone.”
Darby said he hopes the council is not in agreement with the appeal and urged the body not to prolong the matter by pursuing the motion for reconsideration.
“If the city does appeal, The Beach Company will cross-appeal seeking a declaration that the BAR ordinances are unconstitutional based on the city’s delegation of rezoning power to the BAR,” he wrote.
The Sergeant Jasper, The Beach Co.’s first multifamily mixed-use development on the Charleston Peninsula, was completed in 1950.
But when the company sought approval to redevelop the site, it ran into tremendous resistance from preservationists.
“While (the Board of Trustees of Historic Charleston Foundation) is supportive of the redevelopment of this site, our general position is that the project as proposed is just too large and dense for this part of the city,” the board said in a statement in February 2015. “It would negatively impact the livability of this end of the historic district and has the potential for massive adverse impacts on traffic flow and overall congestion at this key gateway of the city.”
The controversial case that began nearly a year ago has sparked numerous debates on property rights, the economic effect the BAR’s decision would have on the region, and First Amendment issues.
Darby has stated that the continued delays are piling on additional costs to the project and communicating a "loud message to investors that their property rights are not safe in Charleston."
Court records reveal The Beach Company spent $2.3 million on consulting and demolition preparation for the Sergeant Jasper property. In addition, as of October 2015, the company had incurred almost $2 million per year in lost revenue for the empty building.
Stating that The Beach Company would prefer to work with the city to resolve the issue, Darby warned that if the city proceeds with an appeal and continues to delay the company’s plan, The Beach Company will not only be forced to replace the material already removed from the building and reopen the facility, but it will seek damages for “an unconstitutional taking against the city.”
The Beach Company "has enjoyed over 70 productive years working with the Charleston community and has never encountered such a blatant disregard of the approval process and property rights,” he wrote.
Darby signed off by urging the City Council to vote against an appeal that is bound to add to the “litany of unwarranted delays already caused by the city and its volunteer boards.”