City steeples should define skyline (copy)

Church steeples and skyline are part of the view from the current Sergeant Jasper apartment building. (Grace Beahm/File)

Charleston City Council voted Tuesday to change downtown's architectural guidelines, including height limits, in one of the most drastic rewrites since the city first took on the task in the 1930s.

The most significant change in the new Board of Architectural Review ordinance is the way the height of proposed new buildings will be measured: not by feet but by the number of stories. The ordinance, which sets the maximum height for buildings across the peninsula, passed with a unanimous vote. It still faces one more vote, which is expected to be taken in August.

"We have to go ahead and put this into motion," said Councilman Robert Mitchell. “We need to start moving forward sometime.”

In May, the Charleston Planning Commission recommended a major overhaul to Charleston's height limits. The commission voted 8-1 to recommend the changes to City Council. 

For about an hour, almost 20 people addressed the council during the meeting. A mix of residents, neighborhood organizations and business groups supported the change, but others did not. 

"The ordinance will protect people who live in our neighborhood and the way our neighborhood works and lives," said Arthur Lawrence, president emeritus of the West Side Neighborhood Association. 

However, the Preservation Society of Charleston expressed concern about neighborhoods losing their historical character.

In six months, the city will revisit the ordinance and evaluate if changes to the BAR guidelines are working.

The BAR was established in 1931 and has guided development while protecting the unique characteristics of the city's historic district. Its creation stemmed from the first preservation ordinance in the country. 

“We are going to end up having not just the first preservation ordinance in the America but the best one in America," said Mayor John Tecklenburg.

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Reach Mina at 843-937-5558. Follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz. 

Mina covers local news and North Charleston at The Post and Courier. She has written for the Boston Globe, the Sun News in Lowell, Mass. and The Daily Free Press at Boston University.