The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Clemson School of Architecture
Battle to go to Planning Commission?
Issue unites neighborhood associationsWarwick Jones, Editor
The first battle was fought last night. Clemson School of Architecture, its students, the City and some other architects sang the praises of the proposed building on George Street. The rest of the world booed. Amongst the critics were Save the City, the Preservation Society, Historic Charleston Foundation, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) and representatives of some half dozen other neighborhood societies on the Peninsula. As the opponents have been saying for some time, the proposed school building is inappropriate for the site, out of character and too large. It would be better placed somewhere else such as Ansonborough Field or North Charleston where Clemson has recently acquired some 80 acres.
Meeting busiest ever
From comments made by Eddie Bello, the City architect, last night's Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting was perhaps the busiest ever. Mayor Riley and Clemson President Barker spoke in favor of the design. Speakers against the design and site included City Council member Fishburne, Cynthia Jenkins of the Preservation Society, and a number of Presidents of neighborhood societies.
Only one BAR member condemns design
As expected, the BAR gave its approval to the concept of the building, It included some caveats that related to minor aspects of the design but were hardly palliatives for the opponents. No, the opponents did not expect much satisfaction from the BAR. And they got little. Only one member, Robert De Marco spoke against the design, and he was strongly critical. He spoke of the bad or innapropriate design of modern buildings that already had been imposed on the City. Here was another. He opined that architecture was becoming a profession of words, a view shared by many of the audience after hearing architects on the BAR and representing Clemson. All other BAR members applauded the design but some were concerned about the "process" - the steps the City and Clemson had taken and were planning to gain approval for the construction.
Injustice to neighbors
In particular, there was concern that Clemson, with the City's approval, would place the back wall of its proposed building against that of the adjacent condominium building on 286 Meeting Street. This would require the condominium owners to brick-up their windows and probably would cause considerable loss in the market value of their investment. A Clemson spokesperson said the windows were illegal. This was an erroneous opinion that was subsequently corrected by a speaker and the City, the latter noting that the building owners had a variance for the windows, granted in 1984. Interestingly, the Post and Courier made no mention of the impact on Clemson's neighbor in its review today. Maybe it would reflect too badly on the City and the Administration?
Broader issue is City's diregard of citizen's desires
It is the writer's opinion that there are now two issues arising for the Clemson conflict. The obvious is that relating specifically to the building, its nature and location. But the other and broader issue is the "process". Indignation has been swelling in recent months about the City's disregard of the feelings of its residents. It has been fomenting with the mounting traffic congestion in the City and the seeming indifference of the City administration to development. It was manifest recently in the Council's response to the requests of residents of Daniel Island for "scattered" instead of "clustered" affordable housing. It continues with the disdain about changes in the noise ordinance sought by residents of Hampton Park neighbourhood. More recenly has been the ire of Ansonborough residents. They feel they have been ignored over Clemson and also consider the methods used by the City to achieve its ends decidedly nasty. The Consortium of Neighborhood Associations has joined to fight an issue with the City. And that issue is Clemson.
Next step is Planning Commission
HANA and its supporters are now looking to take the battle back to the Planning Commission and most likely, to the Circuit Court. The issue of Clemson on George Street has raised considerable indignation in the community with a number of its members already pledging cash to take the legal steps necessary.
On the advice of a City Council member, HANA has made a submission to the Planning Commission, a copy of which was given to the BAR last night . The reaction has yet to be seen. But it is interesting reading and anybody with a sense of justice will most likely be indignant as to what the City has done, or will allow, to get the proposed building approved.
These are the points that HANA makes;
• Improper labeling. At the meeting of the Planning Commission, on July 18 2002, the two blocks of land on which the proposed structure will be situated, were up for rezoning to Limited Business (LB). The zoning prior to the change was General Business (GB) for the block closest to Meeting Street and Single or Two Family (STR) for the adjoining lot. So the succession of zoning along George Street was GB (for the Bank on the Corner of Meeting and George Street), GB and STR for the two Clemson lots and STR for the lot adjoining the site and owned by the Murray Family and the remainedr of George Street up to Anson Street. But what the Commission had before it was not this succession. For some reason, the zonings of the two Clemson blocks were reversed. The Residential lot was presented as sandwiched between two GB lots. The Commission may well have been persuaded that a STR zoning sandwiched between two business zonings was strange and that a change from STR to LB would be reasonable. But clearly, this was not the fact.
• Inadequate discussion with the Community. The City said at the commission hearing that the plans were presented to HANA and there was no known opposition. As HANA meetings end in May and do not resume until September, such a meeting would have been impossible. There was a meeting with the then Vice President of HANA but the letter subsequently sent to the Commission had some stringent conditions for HANA support; these conditions have not been met.
• Impact on the Community The City ordinance states that the Planning Commission must study the need and justification for changes in zoning and the possible effects on the character of a zone district, a particular piece of property and a neighborhood or a community. The adverse impact on the immediate neighbors was ignored in our view.
• Compatibility with City Plans. The Century V Plan was drawn up by the City to be a guide to development. City law says that no new structure can be built until the plans are submitted to the Planning Commission for review and comment as to the compatibility of the proposal with the Century V plan. Despite the demand, the minutes of the Planning Commission meeting show no review or comment by the Commission. The Century V plan also states that infill and development must complement the neighborhood setting. It states that some uses are inappropriate such as excessively large buildings. The proposed Clemson School is 22,000 sq. ft and excessively large. The building across the road, the Spoleto Building is 10,000 sq ft and most others in Ansonborough are 3000 to 6000 sq ft.
• Injustice to Neighbors to the South. This one has done more to rile the community than anything else. There is a condominium development at 286 Meeting Street. Back in 1984 in a variance hearing, the City allowed the then owners to install windows on the back of the building. These windows overlook the Clemson properties. However, at that time the properties were owned by the City. Now the owners of the condominiums are told that Clemson will put its building slam against the wall of the condominiums with only an inch or so separation. As well, the condominium owners will need to close up their windows. They now wonder how they are expected to maintain their building with Clemson's building abutting. They have lost tens of thousands of dollars in market value for their properties and Clemson has offered only to spend $10,000, ".. to offset the costs incurred due to the attachment of our building to yours." Letter from Clemson to condominium owner, November 3, 2005.
• Tricky City. The purpose of the school overlay zone was circumvented. The School overlay was fashioned by the City to give some protection in residential zonings from the establishment of schools. However, it has applications only in relation to Residential zonings, not Business zonings. By the change of zoning in 2001, the City was able to negate any restraint by the school overlay zoning. Construction does not have to meet stringent buffer requirements and can occupy a much larger percentage of the lot. HANA notes that thebuilding will take up about 85% of the lot and not 50% as required by the school overlay.