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BAR Meeting February 9

A hard decision
Warwick Jones, Editor

Board Member Logan described it as possibly the hardest decision he had to make in the years he has served on the board. At issue was the after-the-fact approval for a new HVAC unit and containing fence. This was hardly an issue that affected more than a handful of Charleston residents, but to them and understandably, the issue was important.

The protagonists, and this is not really the right word as one is pledging to help the other, are the Saint Johannes Lutheran Church on the corner of Anson and Hasell Streets, and the residents who live in the general vicinity of the church. The latter were supported by the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, Save the City and other residents of Ansonborough.

On the face of it, the Church had a case to answer. It had installed a new HVAC unit to replace a 20 year old unit. The new unit was much larger than the old unit and considerably noisier, so noisy in fact that nearby residents claimed they could not sleep. As well, the new HVAC is an eye sore and is offensive in this area of numerous historic houses. The Lutheran Church is also a Category 2 building and arguably, it should be concerned with the external appearance of the property.

So understandably, the BAR decided to not give after-the- fact approval. But it was after much soul searching and suggestions.

The reason for this show of concern was the apparent good faith shown by the Church in its actions. The Church had approached the City and made application for replacement of the HVAC and seemingly fulfilled all the requirement of the City. The Church asked at the time of its application whether the City wanted to see the details and specification of the new HVAC but the City declined. The City states that it thought it was approving the installation of a HVAC that was essentially the same as the old one. If it had known what was being installed, approval would never have been granted.

The spokespersons for the Church said that the congregation was poor and had saved hard to replace the HVAC. It thought that it was meeting the requirements of the City and in no way was it trying to circumvent regulations. The Church sought a larger unit to not only replace the old unit but to allow the removal of a number of window air conditioners as well. The Board suggested that the Church approach the contractors who installed the Trane unit and ask for remedial action. What this might be remains conjectural. According to the Church spokesperson, it would be difficult to relocate the HVAC to elsewhere on the property. The Board also suggested that instead of one unit, two small and less offensive units in terms of size be installed. It was also suggested that the contractor should have been aware of City regulations and was remiss in installing such a large unit without proper City authority.

As one board member stated, he thought that the City had to share some of the blame in this matter, though he did not go as far as to suggest that the Church take legal action. The City is supposed to take "before" and "after" photographs of HVAC installations. If the "before " photograph had been taken, it is possible the larger size of the new unit would have become apparent when the plans were reviewed. Another member of the BAR stated that the solution was for the the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) have a fund raiser for the Church to finance the remedial work. Fortunately the BAR ignored this comment and eschewed the task of making such judgments which are clearly beyond the scope of the BAR. But that is not say that HANA is not prepared to help. The President offered to discuss and help in any way. After all the Church is a good neighbor and we have an interest in maintaining a good relationship, he said.

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