As the public gears up for the 2015 mayoral race, we would like to bring to your attention a situation that has not been addressed by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) that we believe is ripe for public debate.
The BAR has lost its sense of purpose insofar as its votes approving infill development in two neighborhoods, Cannonboro-Elliotboro on the Charleston peninsula, clearly favoring the interests of developers because the current administration favors construction of new housing stock that adds to the city's tax base, without any thought given to the architectural legacy 30 or 100 years hence.
Will visitors still want to come to a city that sports a "hodge podge" of new homes in these historic districts?
Infill development is not what is objected to per se by residents of these areas. Daily they face a shortage of parking spaces and live within neighborhoods overrun by rental property that serves the needs of College of Charleston students.
Old and new residents of the two neighborhoods treasure their existing architectural legacy and recognize new architectural designs are only appropriate if they are harmonious with existing architectural styles.
Homeowners are not listened to by the BAR with respect to those building new homes. Residents have issues with those who wish to leave their "architectural imprint" on the historic fabric of these neighborhoods.
Failure to respect the architectural legacy of these neighborhoods in favor of letting folks build "trophy houses," aided and abetted by those who fail to comprehend the full impact of their imprint or "footprint" on this unique collection of historic structures, is shameful. The architectural legacy is being lost in what the BAR gives approval to.
Height, scale and mass seem to be the "mantra" that BAR members say dictates their votes, but in fact is not what governs their decisions.
At a March 26 BAR meeting "conceptual approval" was granted for the construction of two-three story houses at 9 and 11 Porters Court.
These three-story structures on two vacant lots are totally out of harmony with the existing streetscape, although both the developer and the architect were given an opportunity to see an example of an architectural design for "sister houses" that would be appropriate to this streetscape. "Sister houses" can be seen on the streets, alleys, lanes, courts, etc. throughout the Charleston peninsula.
Despite testimony from representatives of the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society of Charleston, both of whom recognized that the plan by the developer and his architect was out of keeping with the character of the neighborhoods, there was but one dissent on the BAR.
We would argue that as we face a changing of the guard with a new administration, what needs to be the top priority is:
"How does the city develop its myriad alleys, lanes, courts, etc. as an added cultural resource in those neighborhoods that border the hotels under construction on upper King Street?"
The residents of these neighborhoods, which are part of the Old Historic District of this city, are not being given equal access by the decision makers who constitute the BAR.