Key decisions this week from the city of Charleston, South Carolina could decide whether the proposed Sergeant Jasper apartment building project moves forward in a few days, or labors through a long legal process, according to The Beach Company, which is re-developing the property.
“The (legal) system is designed so that this thing could be delayed for a long time,” The Beach Company President and CEO John Darby told Palmetto Business Daily. “There are not many, or any, who have challenged the (Charleston Board of Architectural Review)... . It just so happens to be that we made a commitment to defend our property rights.”
Darby referred to a recent court decision in favor of the project, in which the judge ruled that the city’s Board of Architectural Reviews (BAR), which certifies projects affecting historic districts, overstepped its bounds in rejecting the building plans. The BAR rejected the project for height issues, with the judge noting that those requirements are set by the city’s zoning laws.
The Sergeant Jasper project met those zoning requirements.
In a recent interview with Palmetto Business Daily, City Councilman William Moody said the city might be required to appeal the ruling or risk stripping all authority from the BAR.
Darby said it was never his company’s intention to do that when it challenged the BAR decision.
“We just want the BAR to operate within the law,” Darby said, echoing comments from Moody and others.
Moody said that council members have remained divided on the issue and are actively seeking a solution that would preserve the BAR's lawful authority while ensuring the 13-story building project moves forward.
Darby worries, however, that since new Mayor John Tecklenburg campaigned on a platform against the project that it might be an uphill fight. He said there’s been no clear indication of which way they are leaning.
“We’ve reached out to the city, and it’s been radio silence,” Darby said. “So I don’t know if they really intend to drag it out, or if they intend to try and work it out.”
Darby further defended the project by pointing out that the roughly 50-year-old Sergeant Jasper building needs to be replaced, but garnering consensus has been difficult. Some suggest that the BAR's decision was influenced, in part, by neighborhood groups opposed to the project.
“There just doesn't seem to be any compromise on that side,” Darby said referring to the Historic Preservation Commission and neighborhood groups. “I think they're very content to fight the fight and continue to delay the process. There's some (who are) content with the building staying like it is.”
The decision in the next few days, according to Darby, will be a key one for a city government with its first new mayor in more than 40 years.
“This is a time in history where we're going to learn a lot about the leadership of the city,” Darby said “The mayor, he has a lot of influence in this.”
Darby said the judge in the case appeared willing to amend his original ruling to help the city avoid a mandated appeal. In the meantime, however, the building project is forced to wait patiently, even if momentarily vindicated by the courts.
“It's either going to get resolved, really, in the next few days, or it’s going to drag out years,” Darby said.