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City's Preservation Plan

Final document available in two weeks
Implementation to begin immediately
Warwick Jones

The final of the Preservation Plan for the City of Charleston has been completed. City staff and the consultants spoke broadly about the Plan and the steps to implement it at a public meeting last night. A draft is still on the City web site, the final should be available within two weeks, the consultants told the audience.

Few changes from the draft
It seems that the final plan will be little different to that of the draft. We understand that the final may be less wordy but contain more diagrams and illustrations. It will be a substantial document and as the Mayor and others on the podium last night said, it will be a most important document. It will be the basis for preserving the historic elements of the City and eliminating the shortcomings of the present preservation and zoning ordinances. ( Hurrah!)

Main recommendations
We suspect not too many have attempted to wade through the detail of the draft report. We made some comments in an earlier piece (Preservation Plan for City, November 29, 2007). A principal of Page and Turnbull, the consultant, noted there were some 600 recommendations in the report. Some she hoped would be adopted immediately whereas some may take some years. The major recommendations were that:
• City adopt the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (see below).
• A Preservation Overlay be developed specifically for the City but related to the Secretary of the Interior Standards.
• City be split into specific areas each with specific guidelines or rules for rehabilitation (Character assessment).
• The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) is given power to rule on rehabilitation beyond the present defined historic district.

Need for public input
The consultant and other speakers emphasized the need for public input and support for the proposed Plan, in particular, determining the characteristics that needed to be preserved in the defined areas of the City. The consultant also commented that the Standards defined by the Secretary of the Interior were meant essentially to be a guide. Even using these standards will allow for differences in opinion as to the appropriateness of some rehabilitation projects.

Steps for implementation
Mr. Eddie Bello, Director of the Architecture and Preservation Division of the City, spoke of the steps to be taken to implement the proposed plan. The first would be to take the Plan to the Planning Commission and after approval, to City Council. Both processes allow public comment, and from the tone of his and other speakers’ comments, public comment will be sought.

The approval process should take only a few months. Assuming both bodies approve the plan without major changes, the process of implementation will begin. And the most daunting (in our opinion) will be the construction of the Preservation Overlay and the character assessments for the defined areas. As indicated earlier, the City will attempt to define “homogenous” areas where specific renovation and preservation standards can be set down. These standards will be determined with input from the communities. These standards would be incorporated into ordinances related to zoning (e.g. setbacks and height limitations) and preservation (e.g. nature of building materials, scale etc.)

Mr. Bello went on to speak of amending height limitation regulations, and he hoped this would be done sooner rather than later. Presently, height limitations generally are defined in terms of feet. Better he said to define in terms of stories. He opined that the present regulation leads to an even skyline. Visually, it would be more appealing if it were slightly uneven. He also spoke of extending the jurisdiction of the BAR though realistically, this seems moot until the Preservation Overlay or the character assessments are completed.

More power for the BAR
He also spoke of giving the BAR power to make decisions on preservation on all of the exterior of Grade 1 and 2 buildings. Presently, the BAR can only rule on what can be seen from the street. He gave no time frame for this change but it seems to us that it could be implemented early.

Mr. Bello also spoke about Urban Design changes, relating to greenspace and affordable housing specifically. And down the track, he anticipated the development of an Historic Preservation Manual.

Considering that no notes were distributed by the consultants or the City, and that lights were turned off during the presentations, this writer’s notes were harder to read than normal. We don’t recall Mr. Bello making any specific forecast on timing beyond that for Planning Commission and Council approval. But like the consultants, he expected the full implementation of the Plan to take some years.

HCF took lead in seeking Plan
The financing of the preparation of the Preservation Plan was provided by the Historic Charleston Foundation and the City of Charleston. Ms. Kitty Robinson, executive director of the HCF, told the audience that the seeds of the plan were sown by the HCF in the spring of 2006 when Foundation members grew concerned about some of the projects approved by the City. The Foundation subsequently approached the City about its concerns, and it and the City agreed to fund the work necessary to develop the plan.

Ms. Robinson might have added that there were many in the community that were concerned about what the City was allowing and had been saying so for some time. The Preservation Society, as well as the HCF, published a lengthy article about the development that was undermining preservation. The Historical Ansonborough Neighborhood Association (HANA) made an application to the National Trust to place the City within the “11 most threatened historical sites in the nation”.

So we had to bite our tongue when Mayor Riley said that the Preservation Plan was “what the City deserved. The Plan will make the City beautiful, livable and provide authentic character”. We don’t disagree with what he said. But if the new plan is going to do so much, why did it take so much agitation to get it underway?

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation are ten basic principles created to help preserve the distinctive character of a historic building and its site, while allowing for reasonable change to meet new needs.

The Standards are applied to projects in a reasonable manner, taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility

1. A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal changes to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.

2. The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

3. Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time place and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings shall not be undertaken.

4. Most properties change over time: those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.

5. Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a historic property shall be preserved

6. Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.

7. Chemical or physical treatments such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic material shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.

8. Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken

9. New additions, exterior alterations or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize a property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale and architectural features to protect the historical integrity of the property and it environment.

10. New additions and adjacent and related new construction shall be undertaken in such as manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and it environment would be unimpaired.