A chimney that was part of a German POW camp during World War II and which now sits on property owned by a Jewish family should not be granted a protected historic status, Charleston's Planning Commission decided Wednesday.
The commission voted 5-2 in favor of denying landmark overlay zoning protection for the chimney, which stands off Colony Drive near the Ashley River. The commission's decision will be recommended to Charleston City Council, who will make the final call.
"We are pleased and relieved," said Mickey Aberman, whose mother co-owns the property.
Cecile Pearlstine bought the property about 20 years ago because it bordered some of the Pearlstines' land, and it is now split among several relatives. The brick chimney and the fireplace and concrete slab beneath it are all that remain of the prisoner-of-war camp. They were built by captured German soldiers and officers, who may have used the clubhouse that used to stand around the chimney.
"The thought of doing anything to honor the men who were there at that point in time is abhorrent to us in a way that is visceral and very real," said Gary Lemel, part-owner of the property.
Lemel said his family had offered over the years to help pay for the cost of moving all or parts of the chimney to a museum or other location, but that interested groups didn't come through. When the property was annexed in January, he said, the family's county-issued demolition permit was nullified.
No representative of a historic preservation organization spoke at the Planning Commission meeting, but local historian Donna Jacobs said her research has shown that the chimney was used by American soldiers who guarded the camp.
The city had proposed to zone the property as diverse residential with a landmark overlay zone for the area that contains the chimney. Under this classification, the chimney could not be changed, removed or destroyed without permission from Charleston's Board of Architectural Review.
"We feel like they made the right decision," said Lemel. "Our objective is to have a development that mirrors the existing character of the neighborhood and adds value, and we could not have done that if we were forced to work around this chimney."
Ultimately, the family's plan is to sell the property, he said.
Reach Katie West at 937-5574.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified some of the property owners.
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