Two highly significant events that are separate but linked will take place over the next two days -- both impacting the future of Charleston’s architecture.
The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) will meet the afternoon of Feb. 8, to decide whether to finally grant permission that would allow progress on the long-delayed Sergeant Jasper redevelopment project.
Thursday evening, the BAR and the City Council will host a workshop revealing details of new block-by-block height standards across the peninsula, a move the groups hope will negate any need for the board to step over into zoning issues.
This gathering is part of a process that included the publication of a report by DPZ Partners on the BAR and building heights. One of the recommendations is already in place: the creation of two separate processes to review small and large projects.
However, the Sergeant Jasper development is central to the stormy, years-long debate over the BAR’s work -- and, indeed, the future of Charleston’s architecture.
This debate spilled into the court room, where the review board was rapped for overstepping its boundaries by adjudicating on zoning, but headed off a constitutional challenge to its very existence.
John Darby, chief executive at The Beach Company -- the Sergeant Jasper developer that legally challenged the BAR -- said it is a positive outcome if the controversy over his company’s project helps to bring changes.
“There is a reason that Charleston is so beautiful, because the BAR has done a good job and has been a net positive,” Darby told Palmetto Business Daily. “But it needs to be modernized because it has lost its way in recent years. Because of the Sergeant Jasper application that went to the Circuit Court, I think the alarm went off that the BAR ordinances needed to be reviewed and brought up to modern standards. They really had not changed since 1931.”
The planned two-hour meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Charleston Museum Auditorium, is expected to be well attended. City planners are encouraging as many citizens as possible to attend the meeting, to see the work done so far.
"Like the priceless historic buildings it preserves and protects, the BAR itself occasionally needs a thoughtful, painstaking restoration to ensure that it continues to stand strong for future generations,” said City of Charleston Director of Planning Jacob Lindsey.
Historic Foundation Charleston is urging its supporters to attend, describing in a notice the changes proposed, both on height and the BAR’s future, as ones with major ramifications for downtown development.
The foundation believes new language in the proposed amendments will strengthen the BAR and its design review process. It said many of the amendments stem from the October 2015 DPZ report.
Darby also broadly welcomed the report, particularly that the review process be split into large and small projects, which has now happened.
But the developer said it needs to be clarified once and for all that the architectural board has no authority in zoning matters. He also believes there should be more consultation during the development of large projects.
“Developers can go to enormous expense, yet within five minutes of a board meeting, a project can be rejected,” Darby said. “If you know you are going in the right direction, you know going into a meeting there is a higher chance of approval.”
Darby also wants some sort of appeal process: a way to make sure those deciding on large developments are qualified and that public comment is relevant to the design, and only to the design, of the building.
The developer is confident of preliminary approval for the Sergeant Jasper development, partly because his company and the BAR staff consulted recently. Work on construction drawings should begin shortly.
“This is a big step,” Darby said.
Architect Joe Antunovich said the design incorporates everything that was asked for.
“I do not want to jinx it, but we have developed a remarkable design, a first-class design that has taken in all of the comments received,” he told the Palmetto Business Daily. “This is a spectacular project, high-class architecture, high-class materials, and we followed through on all of the promises.”
Antunovich has offices in Washington and Chicago.
“I am so excited, I just can’t hide it,” he said.