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Board of Zoning Appeals - November 1

Appeal on McLeod Plantation decision still undecided
Patricia Jones who covers Zoning

The appeal by the Friends of McLeod against the decision of the Zoning Board to approve exceptions to the School Overlay in relation to the proposed School of Building Arts (SOBA) at McLeod Plantation was not resolved at the meeting last night. There were a number of issues that were raised by the attorney for the Friends of McLeod but the Chairman of the Board dismissed many of these as being outside the realm of the board. However, the issues of parking and voting procedure were legitimate, he said. After some discussion the board agreed that it had considered all of the factors affecting parking and on that basis alone, it would reject the appeal. However, the Chairman confessed to some discomfit on the way the decision was voted at the first meeting. He consequently sought legal opinion from the City Attorney and as of the meeting last night, had not been received. For this reason, the final decision was deferred.

Mr. Peeples, the attorney representing the Friends of McLeod had a hard task getting into his presentation. Mr. Krawchek, who confessed to being a friend (of Mr. Peeples), constantly interrupted, disputing the relevance of certain issues. Mr. Krawchek felt that these issues were beyond the Zoning Board. It was only concerned with the exceptions to the School Overlay and not whether the overlay should have been permitted. The latter was decided by City council and that was that. Whether Mr. Krawchek was right, we can't tell. Mr. Peeples stood his ground and said that depending on the final decision of the Board, the validity of his arguments might de decided by a court

But moving on Mr. Peeples stated that improper consideration was given to parking and traffic. The board in making its first decision had erred in not taking into consideration much of the space that would be used for teaching. It had excluded workshops and offices. If these had been taken into account, then total space for teaching would amount to 32,500 sq feet. The ordinance required 325 spaces for this amount to space. Yet the SOBA was providing space for only 50 cars. The City corrected this figure and said it would be 75 spaces though our notes show 85 cars. Mr. Peeples also stated that SOBA made no allowance for visitors. It was a condition of the sale of the property by the Historic Charleston Foundation that the public be allowed access. Where does the public park? As for traffic, the City study was not a study. It estimated daily usage of the surrounding streets but these figures were meaningless in that they ignored the pressures at particular times of day. These were issues that were raised by speakers at the first meeting.

Mr. Peeples also stated that it was wrong for the board to vote as it did at the first hearing. He recounted that the board tied in its vote on the issue, effectively a vote against the variances sought for the school overlay. The issue should have been dead at that point and not subject to another vote as proposed by Ms. Smith. Ms Smith suggested that approval be given to the exceptions if SOBA guaranteed to limit only 85 cars to parking at the school at any one time. The motion was made and voted on when the majority of the people at the hearing had left the room.

The Board questioned the City as to whether it had been properly informed as to the requirements of the ordinance and whether Mr. Peeple's figures were correct. Had the City taken the workshops and other space into account in determining the teaching space and thereby the parking requirements of 1 car per 100 sq feet. Despite a quote from Mr. Tim Keene, head of City Planning stating that the workshops would be used for teaching, the City said that it did not consider the space was for teaching. What we heard from the city was not reassuring. But was enough for the Board who voted to stand by its original decision. No discussion about visitors' spots or traffic.

But the Board could not easily dismiss the voting procedure in the light of the Chairman's confession of discomfit. So the matter was deferred until the City attorney could express a view.

Frankly we were disappointed, though not surprised by the Board's response to Mr. Peeples argument. The Board has not properly considered the parking or traffic issues. It may not have considered some of the other issues raised such as noise and desecration of historic sites but these issues seem more debatable. And we certainly feel the board erred in its voting procedure. As we stated before, the Friends of McLeod are not planning on giving up. Almost certainly they will take whatever legal recourse is available if they do not get satisfaction.

Here we go again
Remember the recent increase in height restrictions in the Ansonborough Fields area? The City raised the limit for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that so many variances had been given that the height limitation had to be restated to bring some reason back to zoning. To do this, the height limitation was raised with a promise that variances would be harder to obtain.

Residents of West Ashley, take warning! History is repeating itself. The builder of a proposed apartment complex next to the Albermarle project now underway wanted a variance of 5ft to take the building height to 55 ft. He cited special reasons - FEMA regulations, the odd shape of the bloc, the nearby wetlands and others. The Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society opposed the application. They stated that the owners of the block were well aware of the shortcomings of the site when they purchased. So there was no special hardship. In effect what they were saying is that the builders are just trying to maximize profits.

Well the board voted and the vote was tied - effectively a vote of denial. But in shades of the McLeod Plantation hearing, Ms. Smith thought that she could live with a 3 ft variance, the amount that the flood plain defined by FEMA exceed ed the elevation of the site. The board went along with this and voted in favor.

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