Ross Appel wins July Golden Pen award
Ross Appel of Charleston has won The Post and Courier’s Golden Pen award for July for his letter to the editor “ ‘Use-variance’ shouldn’t apply in this case.”
Mr. Appel criticized the city of Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision to grant a “use variance” for the historic church building at 43 Wentworth St. at the request of a prospective purchaser. Mr. Appel wrote: “It allows the church to be converted into multiple residential and office uses.”
And: “The law allows a variance (basically, an exception) from zoning regulations if they cause an ‘unnecessary hardship.’ ”
He gave this legal background: “More than half a century ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that granting a variance is an ‘exceptional power which should be sparingly exercised,’ and the court has since adopted rules limiting variances. One such rule disqualifies a property owner if he purchased the property after the complained-of zoning was in effect. This rule makes sense. One cannot claim unnecessary hardship if the claimed hardship is self-created and could have been avoided.”
Mr. Appel argued that the use-variance granted for 43 Wentworth St. “violates this rule,” adding:
“The current owner acquired the property in 2009. Used as a church for generations, the property’s zoning prohibited more intensive residential and office uses. It makes no difference that a prospective buyer is the applicant since the zoning exists before her purchase as well. The unnecessary hardship is self-created and can be avoided.”
A compromise was reached on the church sale before council could deal with the variance. However, it remains an important issue in a city that is committed to retaining the integrity of historic buildings, when possible.
Golden Pen winners are invited to an annual luncheon with the editorial staff.