Contemporary office buildings meet resistance from Charleston BAR

A rendering of the proposed office building for 663 King St. in downtown Charleston.

Contemporary office buildings proposed on opposite ends of the Charleston peninsula failed to win approval for architectural designs this week.

The Board of Architectural Review denied plans for a four-story, mostly glass structure with first-level parking in the French Quarter historic district of downtown Charleston. The panel also deferred approval of an artsy, sustainable office building with offset floors slated for upper King Street.

“It’s too tall,” BAR member Jay White said of the office building planned for a parking lot at 145-147 East Bay St., just north of Broad Street. “It’s not appropriately scaled for that block. A three-story building is recommended.”

BAR member Janette Alexander agreed.

“It’s a floor too tall,” she said.

She also suggested developer Atlantic South Development spend more time on the building’s rear design, about 100 feet from State Street.

The property extends from East Bay to a residential neighborhood on State Street.

“The design should be completely reconsidered,” said Dennis Dowd of the city’s planning staff. “It makes no attempt (to take into account) the surrounding architecture.”

Several neighbors as well as preservationists spoke out against the structure.

“This modern building dominates the historic district,” said Chris Cody of the Historic Charleston Foundation. “We are opposed to the design.”

Tim Condo of the Preservation Society of Charleston said the height, scale and mass needs to be notched down.

Attorney Andy Gowder, speaking for a nearby homeowner, said the building is not in harmony with the prevailing character of the community.

Others said it will affect livability. privacy and views. One called it “a New York-style building.”

Architect Steve Ramos of LS3P Associates Ltd. said the building is designed with an alley on the southern side extending from East Bay to State streets.

He also called the 100-foot setback from State Street “a large amount of distance between buildings.”

Ramos also referred to city zoning rules that allow a 55-foot structure between Broad and Market streets.

“It’s unfair to say this building is too tall,” he said.

Several people complained about the parking entry off East Bay Street so Ramos suggested moving the entry point off of State Street.

Dowd suggested making entry one-way off of East Bay and one-way out to State Street.

The board denied the concept based on height, scale and general architectural direction.

As for the stacked, four-story office building with a kaleidoscopic entrance planned for 663 King St. next to the overpass of the Septima P. Clark Expressway, the board didn’t outright reject plans for the modernistic approach. It deferred action and asked the owner, Richards Gregory, and his architect, Neil Stevenson, to rethink the building’s siting, parking, stacking, entry and architecture.

“This is an incredibly interesting design,” Alexander said. She suggested it be simplified.

“The farther you go out on this limb, the more important you get it right,” said White, referring to the offset floors and barrel-like entrance. “A lot of things about this building could benefit from restraint. I think the design needs to be refined. If you alternate the floor plates, do it in a snappier way.”

He suggested moving the kaleidoscopic entry inside the building and said the structure needs to stand on its own merits. “It’s not there yet,” White said. “You want ‘Wow!’ not ‘Holy ...’”

The word “chaos” came to mind when he looked at the design.

BAR member William Applegate applauded the design and called it “amazing,” but he also said it needed to take into account surrounding structures.

“It’s not a public space,” he said. “It’s an office building.”

Dowd, of the city planning staff, said the city is not opposed to the contemporary design next to an overpass but said distinctive architectural buildings are better suited for civic use.

He called it an “atyptical office building” and said the kaleidoscope was “an awkward feature.”

Cody from the Historic Charleston Foundation found the design intriguing but believes the barrel-like entry feature protrudes outward too far.

Condo of the Preservation Society called the kaleidoscopic entry “a jarring element” that should be removed.

Several members of the neighborhood and nearby businesses spoke in favor of the project, including the president of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough Neighborhood Association.

“We are excited to have this,” said Cator Sparks.

Original plans called for 64 college apartments on the site with offices and retail across the front, but Stevenson said Gregory wanted to focus on a smaller, higher-quality project.

“We are trying to achieve a carbon-neutral building,” he said.

Solar panels set along the north side of the property next to the overpass would provide energy for the building.

“We believe contemporary architecture is appropriate on this site,” Stevenson said. “This is on the edge of I-26.”

Gregory said his goals are to set the bar for sustainable design, construction and contemporary architecture in Charleston and to set an example that the property doesn’t have to be used for its highest and best use such as a hotel.

“We are going to continue to try to create an incredible piece of architecture,” he said after the BAR’s vote. “I’m not discouraged.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.