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Historic Charleston is threatened!

Neighborhood Association asks to National Trust to place city on endangered site list
Warwick Jones

Shocked by the number of major development projects, spurred by the ugly and inappropriate Clemson Architecture School and encouraged be so many in the community, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association is rolling up its sleeves. It has applied to the National Trust to have the City placed on the list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

Trust seeks nominations each year
Each year, the National Trust issues this list to identify and raise awareness of historic sites at risk from neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. According to the Trust's web site, since 1988, the list has been one of the most successful tools in the fight to save America's irreplaceable architectural, cultural, and natural heritage. The 2006 list will be announced in early June.

"The America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list has been a powerful wake-up call, alerting people to treasures in trouble and rousing efforts to save them," said Richard Moe, president of Trust. "This list has helped save some very significant pieces of our nation's heritage, and we're extremely proud of that fact - but past successes are not enough. Important historic sites are still in danger, and we must continue to protect the places that tell America's story."

The list has brought national attention to 168 significant buildings, sites and landscapes. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history.

Lengthy submission
Although the actual nomination form was only 8 pages, the final submission was considerably larger, swollen by supporting documents, drawings, photographs and letters of support from prominent members of the community. All these things were requested by the Trust. Apart from some of the letters in support, the submission was prepared solely by members of HANA.

The tenor of the submission is predictable. HANA feels that the Historic District of the City is threatened by construction and development that is inappropriate in scale and nature. Much of the fault can be laid at the feet of the City Administration and its appointed Boards - the City for encouraging such development and the Boards for not sufficiently enforcing standards. HANA has also suggested a new approach to defining standards in the Historic Districts.

In the Overview Summary requested by the Trust, HANA states the following:

Significance of the site
The City of Charleston's Historic District is internationally recognized as the guardian of the heritage of the American South. Stroll down Tradd Street between King and East Bay and you are in pre-Revolutionary time. Visit High Battery and you are can see where Charlestonians watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Walk through Ansonborough to see a virtually intact ante-bellum neighborhood.

Urgency of the threat
The Historic District is under siege by developers. A recent proliferation of inappropriate, out-of-scale new structures approved by the City Administration is diminishing livability and quality of life in the Historic District. If major development that is in the pipeline proceeds, it will cause irrevocable harm to a great historic city.

Possible solutions that would remove the threat
The Historic District should be subdivided into smaller and more well-defined Historic and Conservation Districts, each with a separate and appropriate level of preservation standards. A revision and expansion of the land use regulations and zoning ordinance which govern the Historic District should be done to give our elected and appointed officials the tools needed to bring into balance economic development and historic preservation, The Board of Zoning Appeals and the Board of Architectural Review must cease dealing with each proposal for development on an individual basis and must look at al proposals in the context of the impact on the whole Historic District. A moratorium on development of projects over 10,000 square feet should be put in place until the master plan and revisions and expansion of existing regulations can be accomplished.

The submission of HANA draws attention to zoning and regulations in San Francisco. The City has been split into a number of small areas, each with their own special codes. In this way, the City can impose stricter regulations on the more significant historic areas without burdening those of lesser significance. A similar system could work well for Charleston. To see the San Francisco code for Historic Districts, press here

Photographs tell the story
We found some of the submitted photographs of structures and sites to be interesting. Most of the structures are familiar to residents but their inappropriateness is highlighted by the pictures. We have selected a sample of those submitted.

Editors Note. We have removed the original pictures. All were included in the document "City of Charleston, Does it really care about preservation?" which was published at the beginning of November 2006. To see press here

The Preservation Society has expressed the opinion that the threat to Charleston's historic district is the worst in living memory.We share the view. If Charleston succumbs, its historic luster will be extinguished, and traffic fumes and the shadows of tall and unsightly buildings will obscure whatever faint glow might remain.

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