Charleston's Board of Architectural Review didn't vote Monday on a controversial 38-home development planned for DeReef Court, just north of Morris Street.

In fact, one board member, architect Chris Schmitt, left the room after asking if the applicant should even be there.

Schmitt said Demetri Baches of the Beaufort-based firm Metrocology, who described himself as the project's design architect, has no architectural license from the state. "I'm extremely confused about what is going on, and I think this should be deferred until we resolve this matter," Schmitt said.

Baches said his planning firm is working with a licensed architect on the project, and Board chair Craig Bennett let him continue with his presentation and hear public comment, almost all of which was highly critical of the project's height, density and suburban configuration.

Bennett said he shared Schmitt's concerns and would not let the board consider voting on the plan in its current stage.

While Metrocology showed the mass, height and location of the 38 homes, there was little to no detail about their windows, doors or other architectural features that indicated scale.

The lack of a positive vote was a victory for more than a dozen neighbors and preservationists who showed up to speak against the project.

The city had given initial approval to a dense development on the plus sign-shaped site several years ago, but forward motion stopped when the housing bubble burst.

Baches said a new developer has considered how to make the project better. He noted the new plan includes pitched roofs rather than flat ones -- a change that would make the buildings seem smaller. It also would move the dilapidated praise house on the site to a more prominent spot on Morris Street.

But those changes have done little to win favor among the neighbors.

Some said the planned pedestrian links through the project would be blocked by city trash cans and cars, while another noted the project would contain 147 parking spaces -- 3.8 per unit.

Barbara Collier of Mount Pleasant, a descendent of the freedman Joseph DeReef for whom the alley is named, voiced concern the plan would erase the property's African-American history. The plan would shift the alley's location. "I feel us being reduced to a series of little gray plaques," she said.

Robert Gurley of the Charleston Preservation Society said the four-story homes are higher off the ground than required by federal flood laws, while April Wood of the Historic Charleston Foundation said its curvy drive through the neighborhood "is very suburban."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.