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Preservation Plan for the City

Draft plan is heavy reading
A Charlestowne Neighbourhood Association member is critical
Warwick Jones

The draft of the Preservation Plan proposed by the consultants to the City was placed on the City website about a month ago. The groups, formed by the City, to consider the proposed plan, also reviewed the draft. Public forums were held at the beginning of this month. Regrettably, caught up in the election campaign and other things, we missed the forums.

The Preservation Plan is important to the City. Charlestonwatch.com has been vocal in calling for better preservation efforts by the City and a tightening and enforcing of standards and ordinances.

We have read the Plan, though “perused” is probably a better verb. We would give it a qualified endorsement. The report is verbose and reading is heavy going. We thought it was “long” on stating what we ought to do and somewhat “short” on action. In some respects, too much leeway was left to the City. This is a view expressed by others as well. We hope that this view was expressed at the public forums and that the final report – due within a few months - will be more satisfactory.

We though viewers would be interested in the letter sent to Mr. Eddie Bello by Mr. Mike Frederick who is a member of the Charleston Neighborhood Association and Chairman of its BAR Committee. Mr. Bello is Director of the Preservation Department of the City. Mr. Frederick has spent some time studying the draft and his comments seem very pertinent.

Mr. Eddie Bello – Director
Architecture and Preservation Division
75 Calhoun Street – 3rd Floor
Charleston, SC. 29401

Dear Mr. Bello,
Re: Preservation Plan draft
There simply was not enough time for the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association to properly consider this document due to its vast and diverse nature. Also, it is my understanding from speaking with Ruth Todd, there were modifications being made to the draft that we haven’t seen yet. With that in mind I will list for you my personal concerns below. Hopefully they will be addressed in the final draft.

1. Mission Statement. The plan is an enormous document dealing with a wide range of issues. It speaks to land use and regulation, archeology, affordable housing and disaster recovery but I can’t find a clear, succinct statement which says that it’s goal is to preserve the historic character and sense of place that is Charleston. Hopefully, the final draft will include a 9th Charleston Vision statement that says it is the mission of this “preservation plan” to preserve and protect the historic character of Charleston’s old and historic district.

2. Area Character Appraisals. ACAs are an important component of this plan and could be a valuable tool for protecting the historic character of our neighborhoods and yet we’re not told who will be responsible for developing them. I can’t see how any neighborhood association can seriously consider this plan without know their role in developing ACAs. I can tell you that I would recommend that our board oppose any plan that doesn’t require the neighborhood associations’ approval for their ACA.

3. Denser urban architecture. The Charleston Vision statement says that, “denser urban design will be encouraged”. Since the plan doesn’t say otherwise I assume this includes the old and historic district. I am aware of but have not seen traffic studies that are more than 10 years old that conclude that the traffic in parts of our old and historic district has reached a state of near gridlock. I asked representatives of Page & Turnbull if they examined these studies before recommending denser urban design. They did not. Also, I’m not aware of any public support for this position and I hope it will be reexamined before the plan is finalized.

4. Distinctive new design. This plan encourages “distinctive new design” in our old and historic district. This is disappointing as our experience with modern design in our old and historic district has been poor. The old Charleston Library was an example of distinctive new design when it was built. The Charlestowne Neighborhood Association expressed its concern regarding modern design in a position paper that was submitted to Page & Turnbull. Also, I’m not aware of any significant public support for such a position. I asked representatives of Page & Turnbull if they studied or analyzed our history of modern design. They said they did not. Again, I hope you will reconsider this position before the plan is finalized.

5. Instructions to the Board of Architectural Review. When this plan is finalized and approved by City Council it will serve as a legal guide to which the BAR must adhere when considering an application. Currently the BAR is guided by City Ordinance 54=240, which is a fairly large and comprehensive document. Under your plan, the BAR must also consider the Department of Interior standards which is also a large and comprehensive document. In addition, your plan requires the BAR to also consider Area Character Appraisals and finally you tell the BAR under “exceptions to design principles” that “appropriate architecture is occasionally that which goes beyond the bounds of context and urban design”. This component is symptomatic of your plan in general- an enormous volume of words that in the end lack focus and clarity. Seasoned architects would have great difficulty understanding and complying with the instructions put forth in this plan. Our BAR is made up of schoolteachers, lawyers, housewives, etc. The message to them should be succinct and clear. First, that their mission is to preserve the historic character and sense of place that is Charleston and second, they are required by City Ordinance 54-240 to “prevent any development which is not in harmony with the character of the city.

6. Neighborhood participation in the process. In response to a request for public input, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association submitted a position paper which was unanimously approved by our board of directors. In it we expressed concern that buildings were being built in our old and historic district that were inappropriate and did not comply with our city ordinance. We also said that the BAR is not responsive to public comment. The conclusion of our position paper was that neighborhood associations should have more influence with respect to what is being built in our neighborhoods. One suggestion we had was that historic neighborhood associations would have a role in nominating prospective BAR members. Another possibility would be to create an appeal process for neighborhood associations when we feel the BAR has acted against our interests. I believe the issues we raised go to the core of any preservation plan. After all, if the people entrusted with implementing the plan are unable or unwilling to do so the plan itself becomes meaningless. I was disappointed to find that none of our concerns were addressed.

Neighborhood Associations should have a significant role in what is being built in their neighborhoods. Simply allowing for public comment is inadequate. I hope you will be able to find a way to rectify this as I personally cannot support the plan as it is.

I hope these comments along with others you have received will shed light on some of our concerns.

Sincerely,

Mike Frederick – BAR committee chairman – Charlestowne Neighborhood Association

Cc: Page & Turnbull
Ernie Long

The draft of the Preservation Report is still on the City’s web site press here Go to the category heading City deparments, Boards and Commissions and then to the category heading Design, Development and Peeservation. The report can been seen by clicking on the heading Preservation Report on the left side.

The time for public comment formally ended on November 26. But if viewers feel strongly about issues, they might e-mail Mr. Bello at belloe@ci.charleston.sc.us . Other members of the advisory groups are:

City of Charleston
Mayor Joseph Riley
Josh Martin
Yvonne Fortenberry
Eddie Bello
Debbi Rhoad Hopkins
HCF
Kitty Robinson
Winslow Hastie
Local Consultants
Sarah Fick
Michael Allen
Advisory Group
Sallie Duell
Yvonne Evans
John Hildreth
Cynthia Jenkins
Michael Maher
Robert Mitchell
Orlando Newkirk
Charles Rhoden
Bill Wallace
Historic Preservation Program
Ashley Robbins
Jonathon Poston