The years-long battle over the proposed redevelopment of the Sergeant Jasper property on the Charleston peninsula is almost over — and there is no shortage of opinions on why the project attracted so much opposition from local special interest groups.
Charleston City Councilman Bill Moody, for example, is frustrated at the actions of the city's Board of Architectural Review (BAR).
“They overstepped their bounds,” Moody said. “They are supposed to look at the architecture, and whether a proposed building is consistent with our architectural history. But the BAR got into the zoning."
Moody did, however, praise the decision to split the BAR review process in two — dividing the decision making into large and small buildings.
“So large building projects are much complex and we have got to look at the people that are on these commissions in a lot bit more detail,” Moody told Palmetto Business Daily. “We have got to be sure that they understand their role.”
Moody said the Council also will take a long hard look at the makeup of the boards, many of which, he said, were populated by individuals who have been seated for years and have not been replaced. The Council is going to start working on the lists to get a better handle on those sitting and to replace them.
“You have got to be sure when put people on boards that they have sufficient training to understand what it is they are supposed to be doing,” Moody said.
Otherwise, as in the Sergeant Jasper case, the cost could be borne by taxpayers as the city ends up reimbursing developers and others for legal fees, the councilman added.
World-renowned architect Joe Antunovich, the architect of the new Jasper property, is happy that the battle is almost over and said the building will be "marvelous." He said he hopes the final plans for the Jasper will be placed before the BAR later this month, but is "disappointed that it took so long."
“Clear minds could have sat down and resolved these issues and we would not have lost two years," Antunovich told Palmetto Business Daily.
He agreed with Moody that the crux of the issue was that the BAR overstepped its bounds. Antunovich said that the BAR should only deal with architectural, not zoning, issues. The zoning law, the 3X limit, allows the development of a building to go up 3 feet for every foot it was set back from the street. That means a large site like Jasper allows for a new building far taller than the 14-story one that's there now. The BAR, however, voted down the taller design, leading The Beach Co., which owns the property, to file its legal challenge.
“That was part of our response and the courts found that BAR overstepped their bounds, passing judgment on zoning elements that were not in their purview,” Antunovich said.
John Darby, CEO of The Beach Co., said that the issue of balancing conservation with development is key in a city such as Charleston.
“Here in Charleston, we have historic architecture from multiple periods -- from the 1700s to the 1950s,” Darby said. “The preservation of our city has maintained its cultural, social and architectural significance.”
But, he added: “It is, however, a city. Not a museum. Not a movie set.”
While Darby said his company is usually able to work successfully with architectural review boards, sometimes "some members try to exceed their authority."
“They aren’t supposed to have the authority to dictate the height of a building for example," Darby said. "But in some cases, that doesn’t stop them from trying.”
Winslow Hastie, chief preservation officer with the Historic Charleston Foundation, did not respond to emails and telephone calls from Palmetto Business Daily by deadline.
Antunovich, the architect, is excited that the saga may finally be coming close to an end, with work starting later this year, beginning with the demolition of the old Sergeant Jasper building.
“It will be a marvelous building, with a detail matching the old architecture of Charleston, and we will bring that historic context and elegance to the building,” he said.