Historic Charleston Foundation seeking to join Jasper suit

The Beach Co. wants to raze and replace the Sergeant Jasper, seen here from Gadsden Street, but the city denied its most recent plan and a resulting lawsuit is growing more complicated.

Before the courts decide whether Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review acted arbitrarily in denying a new building to replace the Sergeant Jasper, it will have to settle another question:

Who should be allowed to participate in the lawsuit?

The legal challenge pits the city’s board versus The Beach Co., owner of the Jasper site, but other neighborhood and preservation groups also feel they have much at stake in the case.

The Historic Charleston Foundation filed an appeal this week of Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson’s ruling that it may not be a party in the pending case, one that could also question the constitutionality of the city’s architectural review board that has operated since 1931.

The Preservation Society of Charleston and two neighborhoods plan to file similar appeals.

The foundation sought to join the case not only because the board’s future is at stake but also because it holds several easements on historic properties around the Sergeant Jasper property.

Foundation president and CEO Katharine Robinson said The Beach Co.’s claim that the BAR is unconstitutional “represents an unprecedented attack on a highly respected institution that helped preserve the historic district as it stands today.”

She noted major industries and small businesses are drawn to Charleston in part because of the integrity of the city’s history, culture and architecture.

“Residents benefit from the contributions historic preservation makes to the quality of life in Charleston,” she said. “We will not stand idle while the preservation of one of America’s most historic cities is threatened, and we will lead a vigorous campaign to ensure that the BAR’s authority remains intact.”

The Beach Co. claimed the city board acted arbitrarily in rejecting a new building to replace the 1950s Sergeant Jasper tower. The new building would have been about the same height, 150 feet tall, and was allowed under the city’s zoning.

The company said it is committed to a “world-class” redevelopment on the site, and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern about the city’s review in this case.

Nicholson had allowed the foundation, Preservation Society and the Charlestowne and Harleston Village neighborhood associations to participate in recent mediation talks to resolve the dispute — talks that otherwise were held in private.

But he stopped short of making them a party in the case. Robinson noted the foundation’s decision to intervene was approved unanimously by its board.

Winslow Hastie, the foundation’s chief preservation officer, noted the city’s Board of Architectural Review is the nation’s oldest and has served as a model for hundreds of similar boards across the country.

“There is intense national interest in the outcome of this appeal,” he said. “Protecting the BAR and all that it represents will remain the focus of our advocacy efforts.”

Kristopher King of the Preservation Society agreed, saying the board has been a national model as far as the best practice for design development.

“This is such a bigger issue than Charleston,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.