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Board of Architectural Review September 20

Board tells C of C to reconsider Science School plans
Council Member Fishburne questions BAR process
Warwick Jones

Last night's meeting was called specially to consider the new Science Building for the College of Charleston. The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) was not impressed and voted for deferral. For us, the meeting raised a number of issues beyond the proposed school, all relating to the BAR itself.

But firstly, the proposed Science Building. The structure is large and is to occupy the site on the corner of Coming and Calhoun Street, opposite the Addlestone Library Building. The lot is presently used for parking. We do not have diagrams of all sides of the proposed building but by pressing here , viewers can see one side. The other sides do not look much different. In trying to design the building, the architects said they had spoken to many groups, including the Preservation Society, Historic Charleston Foundation and neighborhood associations, and of course City staff.

Public overwhelmingly critical
Overall there were about a dozen speakers from the public, only one of which praised the project. All the others in varying degrees were critical with the Preservation Society perhaps the least critical. We thought the design was dull and pedestrian, and would look very much like a "purpose built" structure. Save the City had a harsh view and representatives called the design mediocre, lacking in style, a lot of schlock. They said we need a building which Charleston can be proud off, not another Addlestone Library. City Council member Fishburne described the proposed structure as just "another ugly building".

Board also critical
The three members of the BAR who were hearing the College's request for conceptual approval, more or less agreed with the speakers. Board member De Marco condemned it outright and said that the design did not meet the requirements set down for buildings in the historic district. The other two members had issues with some specific items such as one of the corners of the building, the placement of the generator, a proposed greenhouse, and the entrance. Both took the lead from the City which first suggested that the whole building could be made livelier and that the BAR ought to look for something more "cutting edge". Board member Fava also added that the building needs to respect the surroundings and in his opinion, what was proposed does not. Board member De Marco said there were some good examples of modern buildings with historic overtones with the implication that the architect should look to these in redesigning the Science Building. So the Board, or the three members, voted unanimously for the issue to be deferred, and with the expectation that the architects would bring back a much improved proposal.

It seemed a plaintive comment by the architect when he responded to the BAR criticisms. The architect had tried to collaborate with all the interested parties and indeed had spent much time in discussions. But it was hard to reconcile for example the desire of the Historic Charleston Foundation for a building that looked more industrial and that of neighborhood associations who sought something more historic looking.

Council member Fishburne to raise issues with Mayor and Council
And now the other issues. Council member Fishburne probably startled the sitting members of the BAR with he stated he was going to speak with the Mayor and ask Council to look at the BAR ordinance. After describing the proposed Science building as "another ugly building", he wondered out loud how after the Clemson experience, the City could contemplate such a building as that now proposed He didn't understand how the BAR process could allow buildings to get this far. He was amazed how much time the BAR could spend discussing minor details relating to "affordable housing" which was sensitive to costs (and of limited architectural interest) and approve important public buildings with limited scrutiny. He also decried the fact that of the 7 member board, only 3 members were hearing this important application.

Board member De Marco sort of endorsed Council member Fishburne's comment. He said that he was a lawyer and he knew what the BAR Ordinances said in relation to new structures and the harmony with surrounding structures. In regard to the building proposed by the College, "it doesn't come close".

Strange definition of a quorum
That only 3 members of the BAR sat on the panel raised eyebrows amongst attendees at the beginning of the meeting and was not addressed by the Chair until quite late in the meeting. The first member of the public to speak asked why there were only 3 members and suggested that it was not a quorum. Any decision by the BAR would not be valid. She also asked the Chair whether the meeting with only 3 members of the 8 member board was valid in accordance with Roberts Rules. The Chair said she didn't know about the latter and that if there was an issue she should take it up with City staff. But the BAR legal advice was that there were 4 members present when the meeting started and this represented a quorum. That one of the members had to recuse himself because of a clash of interests did not matter. There still had been a quorum. This raises the question if the two of the remaining members had also to recuse themselves for some reason would this single member still represent a quorum. C'mon!

More care in choosing board members
And while on the matter of recusing, it seems strange that 3 members of a 7 person board have to recuse themselves over a hearing concerning the College of Charleston. The reason for the absence was only revealed late in the meeting. The 3 of the members had in some way relations with the College or interested parties. Why the Chair was so tardy in disclosing this information is not known. But we also ask that with College coming before the BAR so frequently, shouldn't the City be more careful in selecting members of the BAR? Shouldn't it draw from a wider pool of members of the public to serve on the Board?

What about Clemson?
And then there was Board member Fava's comment about the lack of people that showed up to speak against the proposed Science Building. He said only 3 or 4 spoke against the design and it was important to hear for the public's views. Oh, really. Well we counted close to a dozen speakers at the hearing yesterday. All except one were opposed to the building. This is a multiple of what Board member Fava suggested. We also ask that if the number of attendees speaking against a proposal is important, why on earth did the BAR give the "green light" to the Clemson School of Architecture Building? It seemed half of Charleston was at the BAR meeting a year or so ago to protest but it didn't seem to do any good. With the notable exception of Board member De Marco, the Board voted in favor.

Bad audio does not help hearing
And finally, in anticipation of a large crowd, the meeting was moved to a large room in the 75 Calhoun Street Building. This is to be applauded. But although the Bar attempted to cater for a larger crowd, much of what was said was not heard by attendees. The room seemingly is served by microphones and a public address system. And members of the public volubly told the BAR Chair that discussion were not audible towards the back of the room. But nothing changed. If the audio worked, it worked badly.

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