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Board of Zoning Appeals – February 20

Scrambles to find a quorum
HCF appeals decision on hotel tower at 404 King St
Warwick Jones

According to Chairman Krawcheck, it hadn’t happened for at least a decade. The Board of Zoning Appeals had always been able to muster a quorum. But yesterday was an exception. Only three members turned up for the regularly scheduled meeting. The Chairman apologized to the public many of which turned up to speak, and asked them to be patient while staff summoned other members of the Board. They succeeded in drawing another member, allowing the meeting to proceed with a four member quorum after a 50 minute delay. But it was not enough for all of the issues before the Board. The Chairman said he had to recuse himself from some items, presumably because of a conflict of interests, leaving only three board members and insufficient for a quorum.

Three items were excised from the day’s agenda because of the lack of a quorum but it cleared the room of about half the occupants. As the Chairman indicated, the problem of a lack of a quorum has been rare. But although we haven’t counted, we suspect there have been many instances where there have been no more members present than the minimum requirement of four. Maybe the City should move as it has done with the Board of Architectural Review to appoint members to the BZA to serve on “a call” basis. If Board members need to recuse themselves, one of the “on call” members can serve.

HCF appeals hotel height
We were drawn to yesterday meeting by the appeal of The Historic Charleston Foundation against the decision to allow a 105 foot tower on the hotel planned for 404 King St and which will abut Marion Square. The zoning for the property is 3x-55/30. This reflects a split zoning – part of the property can have a height up to 3 times the distance from the center of the street to the face of the building, the other a height limit of 55 feet.

Nothing special about property and no economic hardship
In not the most eloquent of speeches, the attorney for the HCF told the Board that it had erred in its decision. There was nothing special about the property that allowed the height limit to be exceeded, he said. The property was no different than any other surrounding the square and its location did not justify such a high tower. He continued, the only reason for the tower was to improve the economics of the hotel. Under the guidelines for the granting of an exception or variance, economic hardship was not a permissible reason.

As the BZA has never in our knowledge upheld an appeal against one of its decisions, at least when new evidence was not presented, we were not surprised that the Board knocked back the appeal. The Board did not attempt to address the first part of the attorney’s appeals but members stated that their decision on the tower was not made on the basis of economics.

HCF and Preservation Society appealing to Court
Perhaps the attorney recognized that his cause had no chance and his speech was simply perfunctory, part of the process. And we understand that the “process” involves taking the appeal to the Courts, an action that we understand is also being taken by the Preservation Society. Viewers of this web site will understand that we applaud the action of the two preservation bodies.

Interesting situation at 59 Queen Street
Viewers of this site will also know that we have been a frequent critic of BZA decisions. But we confess that some times its task is hard and there is a legitimate excuse for differences. Take the case of 59 Queen Street which was before the BZA last night but was not heard.

A house on an old driveway
The property in question was once a driveway for the adjoining property. It was sold off some 80 years or so ago at a time when zoning and property regulations were lax or non-existent. We understand that some investors have acquired the property and plan construction of a single family residence. But to construct the residence, a host of variances and exceptions will need to be granted. Understandably, the nearby residents are protesting. And the specific issue that was scheduled to be heard last night related the amount of light that would be blocked by the new construction.

Subdivision would not be approved today
There is little doubt that division of property giving rise to a lot the size of 59 Queen Street would not have been permitted any time over the last 30 years or so. Consequently, the BZA would not have to address problems of variances and exceptions. But the subdivision that occurred was legal. And if it were legal, then don’t the owners have the right to build a structure?

Someone has to draw a line as to how many variances or exceptions can be given. What is planned may not be a “doll’s house” but it is getting there. And it will be impinging on neighbors. But what of the owners’ right? Whatever the BZA decides, it will be criticized.

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