Last year, in the midst of the controversy of the Charleston Board of Architectural Review’s (BAR) rejection of several concepts for the Sergeant Jasper property redevelopment, the city and Historic Charleston Foundation hired consultant Andres Duany of DZP Partners to audit the city’s architectural review process and suggest ways to improve it.
As a result of that audit, Duany proposed a comprehensive set of recommended reforms to the BAR, and suggested that they be implemented all at once for greatest impact.
Part of what Duany identified in his report was a lack of oversight and communication between the city and the BAR, whose primary goal is to ensure preservation of Charleston’s distinct historical heritage. A Charleston city ordinance currently gives the board broad authority to review any project in a historic district or involving a building over 50 years old (Sergeant Jasper was built in the 1950s), in order to ensure those projects “impart a distinct aspect to the city and which serve as visible reminders of the historical and cultural heritage of the city, the state, and the nation.” It claims to adhere to the principles established by the Charleston Standards, a nine-point list for historical preservation.
“The BAR does not understand the economics or design requirements of large-scale development,” Duany's report, published last September, stated. “Someone with knowledge of the zoning ordinance and BAR rules should monitor all meetings to ensure compliance.”
Since the publication of Duany’s recommendations, however, the city has implemented only one of Duany’s recommendations: That is, splitting the BAR into two sections; one that reviews large projects, and one that handles projects of more than 10,000 square feet.
Why hasn’t the city yet implemented all of Duany’s recommendations?
Jacob Lindsey, chairman of the city’s Department of Planning, Preservation & Sustainability; and Winslow Hastie, Chief Preservation Officer with the Historic Charleston Foundation, both declined to comment for this story.
City Councilman William A. Moody, Jr. told Palmetto Business Daily that he hopes the city council will have agreed-upon changes to the BAR’s charter finalized within the next four months, despite what he described as divisions on the issue.
“We think that the BAR is fine,” Moody said, referring to himself and others on the council who are more amenable to the reforms. “We just think, though, that maybe they need to go back to what they were supposed to be doing.”
Moody said that reforming the BAR in the middle of a major building project (the Sergeant Jasper) has likely delayed the process.
Earlier this month, the City of Charleston announced plans to appeal the April decision of Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, Jr., who ruled the BAR overstepped its authority in denying The Beach Company’s application to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper property.
That ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by The Beach Company over what the company said was the BAR’s “arbitrary and capricious” review process that led to details of several Sergeant Jasper concepts.
The contention that the BAR is inconsistent in its rulings was alleged in The Beach Company’s suit, as well as Duany’s report. The Beach Company, for example, maintains the Jasper project plans met the city’s zoning laws; even though the BAR cited building height as one of the key reasons for rejecting the project.
In addition to meeting those requirements, Jasper architect Joe Antunovich previously told Palmetto Business Daily that the building also endeavored to look historic. A backlash from neighborhood residents at BAR meetings on the project, however, seemed to pressure board members to reject the project.
Moody agreed with that assessment.
“I will tell you that the neighborhood association (north of the proposed building site) … have been pushing hard to keep this Sergeant Jasper project from going forward, and that’s part of what’s got the BAR in trouble,” he said. “Now the judge has ruled that those association and neighborhoods have no standing in the issue — he kinda told them to go away.”
While Moody is hopeful for reforms to the BAR, he said he thinks “everybody is just trying to do what’s best for the city.”