Dan Coleman looks at one of the oldest houses in North Charleston not as a crumbling eyesore that should be bulldozed but as a structure that needs to be protected.
"It's an architectural gem," the past president of Olde North Charleston Neighborhood Council said of the vacant Alamo Street house built in 1910. "As it is now, there is nothing to protect that house from being torn down."
The house is among more than 125 structures that could soon be protected in the city's first historic district.
After two years of talks, the proposed Olde North Charleston Historic District and an adjacent Neighborhood Conservation District seek not only to preserve existing structures but also to secure the character of the neighborhood by not allowing new development that is out of scale or of a different nature from the existing buildings.
The proposal took root after developers built new, three-story houses on Buist Avenue where a mobile home lot once stood. Many Olde North Charleston residents felt the $350,000 houses were out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.
"People became aware of the changes and what they can do to the historic fabric of that neighborhood," said City Councilman Kurt Taylor, who not only represents the district but lives there as well.
"The ordinance does not dictate what color you can paint your house, but before someone can tear down or significantly change a structure, you have to look at the standards," Taylor said.
The proposed historic district, just south of the business district on East Montague Avenue, extends from Virginia Avenue to North Charleston High School, which is not included. It also includes the area from the alley behind the business district on the south side of East Montague to Buist avenues.
Of the 103 lots in the historic area, 86 are developed and 78 were built before 1956. Homes are considered historic if they were more than 50 years old as of 2006.
The proposed conservation district lies south and west of the historic district. It includes the area between O'Hear, Bexley, Oakwood, Jenkins and Crawford avenues. It has 129 lots. Fifty-two structures were built before 1956, and 44 lots are vacant.
Structures listed on an inventory of historic buildings must receive design review before certain changes can be made. No review is required for general maintenance and repairs that do not change the appearance of a structure or site. No review is required either for exterior alterations not visible from a public right of way, house painting or staining, landscaping, interior work, window screens except on the front porch, flat concrete work for driveways and walkways, rear yard fences, exterior lighting fixtures, window grilles and demolition of structures not listed.
The proposal also regulates setbacks, floor area ratios, lot sizes, coverage of a lot, parking, driveways, garages, roof pitches, skylights, visible rafters, roofing materials, house height, building materials, additions, fences and new lighting.
Standards for homes listed in the historic district are stricter than those in the conservation district. For instance, Coleman said if someone wanted to redesign a front porch in the conservation district, it could be done without being reviewed beforehand. Changes to the same house in the historic district would require prior approval, he said.
John Pharis, an architect who lives in Park Circle near the proposed historic district, said it will be an asset to the city.
"It offers a fair and equitable way for the residents of Olde North Charleston to protect their property," he said.
Coleman doesn't think the level of protection will stop with Olde North Charleston once the district is set up after being approved by the community and City Council early next year.
"We envision it being picked up in other neighborhoods," he said.