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BAR Meeting December 20

Preserving the past but at what cost?
Warwick Jones, Editor

It was the familiar old story at the BAR meeting last night - preserving the past but at what cost? On one side there is the developer, on the other the Historic Charleston Foundation, The Preservation Society and generally the neighborhood associations. The BAR, the City and the public can be anywhere in between, though more often than not, the City is skewed more to development. The items on last night's agenda were not overly important in themselves but served to remind us of one of the major dividing issues for citizens.

Perhaps the most important item on last night's agenda, at least from an historic perspective was the construction of 13 multifamily dwellings at 900 King Street. The address probably means little to most people. But a traveler along King Street can hardly miss those fine 2.5 storey buildings on the Upper part that are of a distinctive Victorian style of architecture. They are called the William Enston Homes and were built in 2 phases, in the later 1880's and in 1927. They are presently owned by the Housing Authority of the City of Charleston and are designated National Landmarks.

Now the City wants to add some more houses and for "affordable housing". Naturally, the City does not wish to be extravagant. But it recognizes that the new buildings must be in character with the old. The City has gone to great lengths to try to match the architecture with new buildings designed to look very similar to those existing. Like the old, the new buildings will be built of brick.

The project has its critics, though criticism was restrained and generally sought even greater conformity with the old architecture. Some minor amendments were proposed and the BAR gave conceptual approval.

106 Spring Street did not do so well. Here the developer tried to crowd 12 houses on to a relatively small site. He admitted that planning was a challenge but nobody liked the result of his efforts. "Too many buildings of the site, too tall at 55 ft and too narrow at 15 ft". The design and configuration did not look historic and did not fit well with surrounding structures. The design was panned by the BAR, the City, and just about everybody else.

But 47 Line Street was a more difficult one to resolve. At issue was an old building that had been partially destroyed by fire. These were differences of opinion as to how much was destroyed, how much was restorable and how much was worth restoring. Two BAR members disagreed on the latter point. It was a hard call in our opinion but the BAR sided with the City and moved to allow demolition.

There were other items of the agenda but the most important was the 71 condominium unit development at 27 George Street, on the site of the Family Y. We are not sure how this development got as far as it did considering the narrowness of George Street and the volume of traffic. We also wonder how the proposed structure passed muster on scale and mass. But sadly, this is no longer arguable as the BAR gave conceptual approval some months ago. The developer is now moving to approval for construction. It was knocked back at the previous meeting because of dissatisfaction with building materials, color and some of the design. This time, the BAR gave its approval but with some conditions. It was generally pleased at the changes since the last meeting. The developer had eliminated most of the hardiplank and substituted brick. The roof was now all metal and not asbestos shingle, and there had been some other design changes. The BAR requested some more changes such as setting the windows further back, and more changes in the exterior. But these were not considered sufficient to defer the decision to approve.