The most recent challenge to Charleston’s venerable Board of Architectural Review (BAR) worries some in the preservation community, but current and former city officials say its authority is clear despite the new appeal.
Twice denied by the BAR, the Georgia-based developers of the property at 295 Calhoun St. downtown have appealed the board’s decision, requesting a start to mediation required before taking the city and the board to court.
It’s not the first time a developer has appealed a BAR decision, but a potential revolving door for developer approvals resulting from private negotiations could represent a concerning trend, preservationists and one former city architect told the City Paper.
On Calhoun Street
Slated for a 2-acre strip of property near the medical district between Calhoun Street and a tidal basin known as Alberta Long Lake, the proposed eight-story mixed-use building drew criticism from preservationists before the its first denial in April and again in August. Despite city staff’s recommendation for conceptual approval, BAR members unanimously voted against the initial proposal, pointing to the building’s “significantly different scale” compared to nearby Harleston Village properties.
When the applicant, an affiliate of developer Augusta Southeastern, returned in August, the board again unanimously rejected the proposal, siding with city staff who said the builder did not incorporate enough of the board’s recommendations.
Eddie Bello served as Charleston city architect from 2000 to 2010 and sat with the Aug. 26 BAR-Large committee as an alternate, making the deciding motion to reject 295 Calhoun St. plans. Bello said his vote boiled down to Southeastern’s second-round plans looking similar to the first.
“I think the board has been very clear on what they need to do. They just didn’t do it,” he told the City Paper.
Bello said it’s “frustrating,” as an architect who has worked within the BAR his whole career, to see projects go “around the system.”
“It seems like they just said, ‘OK, we’re not even going to bother. Let’s just go straight to court,’ ” he said.
Periodic appeals are to be expected, according to Charleston city spokesman Jack O’Toole.
“While the occasional challenge is part of the process under state law, we believe that the BAR is stronger today than it’s been in many years and that it will continue to protect our city for generations to come,” he told the City Paper in a statement.
Jason Long, a Southeastern vice president, said after the project’s two denials, the BAR format could benefit from some changes to “facilitate communication.”
“It has been difficult to navigate the process without being permitted to meet with BAR members outside of the formal meeting,” he told the City Paper.