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Proposed development causing concern as developers appeal Charleston board’s decision

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 4:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A proposed development on Calhoun Street is causing controversy, especially now that the company is taking legal action against the city to get its design approved.

Officials with the Preservation Society of Charleston (PSC) said not only is the proposed design of the development at 295 Calhoun Street completely inappropriate, but they said they’re troubled by the developer’s plan to use legal action to get past the city’s ruling.

According to Preservation Society, the proposed project design was first submitted at the beginning of 2020 and has been denied several times by the City’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR)

City documents show the most recent design plan was unanimously denied by the BAR for its “General Architecture Direction.”

The Preservation Society said they fully supported the BAR’s denial of the design.

“It’s fundamentally at odds with Charleston’s unique character,” Erin Minnigan, the Director of Historic Preservation for Preservation Society of Charleston, said. “For the site, it’s overly massive, and it’s very much out of scale with the surrounding context, particularly the adjacent Harlston Village Neighborhood.”

Court documents show that the company behind the design, SE Calhoun, LLC, has now filed an appeal and a request for mediation with the city and the board of architectural review.

The attorney representing SE Calhoun said in an email that the company bought the property on the understanding that they would be able to develop a building there, in accordance with zoning regulations.

“SE Calhoun, LLC,  complied with all zoning requirements of the City of Charleston in their presentations to the BAR,” the email stated. “After the first presentation, the owners modified the exterior design to reflect all of the comments from City staff and BAR members.  The BAR then denied the application for reasons other than the exterior design.”

According to the attorneys for SE Calhoun, LLC, the company has appealed the BAR decision and requested pre-litigation mediation “in the hope of getting a quick resolution beneficial to the owners and to the City.”

The legal action, however, worries the Preservation Society.

“What we’re concerned about here is a trend by which an applicant wants to settle something out of court and outside of public oversight and then get the approvals,” Brian Turner, the Director of Advocacy at the Preservation Society, said. “And they have the financial means, quite frankly to hire attorneys to help them do that, whereas other applicants who might not have those means. The process becomes unfair.”

In a statement, the City of Charleston said: “Since 1931, the Board of Architectural Review has been Charleston’s first and best line of defense against inappropriate development in the downtown area. That’s why the City and the preservation community worked so hard together to strengthen the underlying ordinance when it was challenged in 2016, and why we’re so committed to defending it today. So, while the occasional challenge is part of the process under state law, we believe that the B.A.R. is stronger today than it’s been in many years and that it will continue to protect our city for generations to come.”

SE Calhoun, LLC’s attorney added, “I would like to point out that all adjoining property owners (Roper, MUSC and Halsey Park HOA) support the developers’ building and design as well as all of the property improvements that are planned.”

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