Preservation Society of Charleston

Current Preservation Issues

Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings

The historic rainfall and flooding in the first few days of October have greatly impacted many in the community and beyond. We sincerely hope you and your family have weathered the storm without damage to your house or place of business. However, if your property has sustained damage, or if you have questions or concerns about how to properly care for your affected property, please contact us by phone - 843.722.4630 - or by email -  

In addition, we would like to share a resource with you in response to this week’s flooding. Please refer to "Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Properties" from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act

Over the past few years there has been no shortage of media coverage of the State Ports Authority’s (SPA) proposed expansion of Union Pier Terminal and its cruise operations, as well as the resultant litigation. Followers of the issue have undoubtedly come across the term “Section 106 Review” in the ongoing narrative, but what is it exactly? Understanding this process is especially relevant now, as the SPA has filed with the Charleston District Army Corps of Engineers for the necessary permit to expand its cruise terminal, and the early stages of Section 106 Review have begun. 

Though it is an arcane process, Section 106 Review is a crucial defense mechanism for the nation’s historic and cultural resources, because it requires consideration of the effects of projects that federal agencies carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties. In this sense, “historic properties” are those that are deemed eligible for the NRHP or listed on the NRHP individually or as part of a district. However, Section 106 Review is a more complicated process than just that.

Fortunately, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) recently updated its publication, Protecting Historic Properties: A Citizen’s Guide to Section 106  Review, which offers a wealth of information in clear terms.  We encourage all who are interested in better understanding a process important to the preservation of Charleston’s architectural heritage to become familiar with the publication by clicking here.

(Image courtesy of LS3P via 

Section 54-206(a) of the Charleston Zoning Ordinance

Municipal zoning codes are generally ponderous documents. The legalese and technical jargon can be overwhelming, but having even a basic familiarity with zoning ordinances is critical to understanding how and why a city takes its physical form. PSC is here to help make sense of the Charleston Zoning Ordinance for you.

Section 54-206 of the Charleston Zoning Ordinance lists particular uses that may be allowed in certain zoning districts by the granting of a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals – Zoning (BZAZ). The board may grant the special exception if it finds that certain requirements are met. Of specific interest under Sec. 54-206 is subsection “a,” which is a special exception use allowing additional dwelling units in the various SR (single-family residential) zoning districts. It states: “Additional dwelling units shall be permitted as an exception within all single-family residential, SR zoning districts, in dwellings constructed prior to August 17, 1966, where the Board (BZAZ), after review, finds that such existing dwelling contains such an amount of space available and suitable for residential purposes that it is unreasonable to require its use as a single-family dwelling.”

This special exception is problematic because if the single-family dwelling in question is one of the scores of historic residences that make up Charleston’s largest and most exceptional architecture, granting Sec. 54-206(a) becomes potentially deleterious to the character of those dwellings and the National Historic Landmark District as a whole. It is extremely difficult to add dwelling units within an historic single-family house and not diminish its integrity; far too often character-defining features of the historical fabric, such as interior staircases and original floor plans and ornamentation, are altered or demolished.

A corollary issue with Sec. 54-206(a) is its prescriptive language and, therefore, how it is applied. The board is required to grant the special exception in practically every case because of the verbiage: “Additional dwelling units shall be permitted…where the board, after review, finds that such existing dwelling contains such an amount of space available and suitable for residential purposes that it is unreasonable to require its use as a single-family dwelling.” Essentially, in cases with houses that have substantial square footages, the board must grant the owner the right to have additional dwelling units.

Sec. 54-206(a) was written at a time when the real estate market was less able to support single-family use, and the preservation ethic recognized and practiced today was still inchoate. There was less demand for single-family dwellings with large square footages, and the stately historic houses in primarily residential neighborhoods needed inhabitants to maintain them. If giving a dwelling a purpose, thereby preserving it, meant splitting it into apartments or multiple ownerships, then so be it. Today, best practices in preservation would most often be to avoid such a route, and examples of grand residences occupied by just one family abound in Charleston’s historic districts.

When the BZAZ voted in June of 2015 to grant a special exception for additional dwelling units for 1 Meeting Street, one of the finest and most substantial dwellings in the city, it struck a nerve with preservationists as setting a dubious precedent. In the Charlestowne neighborhood alone, the area south of Broad Street, there are dozens of houses of comparable sizes to 1 Meeting Street. If all of these owners were to seek special exceptions for additional dwelling units, then a significant portion of the city’s historic residential architecture undoubtedly would be compromised. Once historic fabric is gone, it is gone forever. Elements can be reconstructed, but they are typically done so with inferior materials and at an unnecessary expense to subsequent owners.

A property that can be subdivided or rented as multiple units is likely to fetch a higher asking price with the added income potential. Because of this, and as long as the language in 54-206(a) remains as is, homeowners may tend to give themselves and their properties an edge and capitalize in a competitive seller’s market by adding dwelling units. The maxim, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” is quite fitting in this situation. If the thought of partitioning and subdividing Charleston’s exceptional historic dwellings causes concern, talk to your City Council representative about a much-needed amendment to the troublesome language in 54-206(a).  


Image: 1 Meeting Street


Sergeant Jasper

The controversy surrounding the Beach Company's proposal to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper property entered a new phase this summer after the BAR denied their latest proposal at a special meeting held June 3, 2015. 

In response to the BAR's decision, the Beach Company filed an appeal in circuit court, requesting pre-litigation mediation with the BAR and the City of Charleston. This little-known and seldom-used path of mediation would allow the Beach Company to negotiate directly with the City in a protected and confidential setting without public oversight and input. 

The Preservation Society of Charleston (PSC) and Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) filed a joint Motion to Intervene in the mediation in an attempt to ensure that the public's voice would not be excluded from the discussion. In August, the judge granted the two organizations, as well as the neighborhood associations of Charlestowne and Harleston Village, the right to participate in the mediation. 

On September 1, Tom Traxler, the mediator for the Sergeant Jasper BAR appeal, declared that the mediation was at an impasse because the parties were not able to reach a resolution. Following this, the Beach Company announced that it would continue to pursue its case in court, stating that the BAR exceeded its authority and violated its rights as an owner by denying the project. The City has publicized its intent to "defend vigorously" the decision and integrity of the BAR.

No project is guaranteed approval in advance of the public hearing, and we believe the BAR acted well within its legal authority in denying the proposed application. Because of the BAR and its review of alterations and new construction, Charleston has been able to protect and retain its character and integrity despite enormous development pressure over the years. 

As we await the next chapter, the take-away from all of this is both encouraging and cause for concern. The City's ardent support for the BAR is heartening, as the BAR has safeguarded Charleston's irreplaceable character for nearly 85 years and must continue to do so if the city hopes to retain its unique quality and sense of place. Conversely, if the Beach Company's path of mediation is emulated by developers anytime they are displeased by a decision of a public board, the public processes that have helped keep Charleston unique will be at risk of continual circumvention. 

Here is a recap of the events leading to the present state:

September 2014: The BAR gave the Beach Company approval to demolish the existing Sergeant Jasper building. Interior demolition began the following month, but further progress has since halted and the building still stands.

February 2015: At the February 18 meeting of the Planning Commission, the Beach Company sought approval to rezone the Sergeant Jasper property (310 and 322 Broad Street) into a Planned Unit Development (PUD). PSC opposed the PUD because of the many negative impacts it would have had on traffic, congestion, and parking in an area. The massive scale of what was proposed - 454 units, 700 parking spaces, and a 35,000 square foot grocery store - was incompatible with the surrounding historic residential neighborhoods.

An overwhelming turnout of concerned citizens prompted the hearing to be deferred to a special meeting on a later date. Before that hearing occurred, however, the Beach Company withdrew their plans for the PUD amidst widespread opposition and went back to the drawing board.

May 2015: At a special meeting of the BAR at Burke High School Auditorium, the Beach Company presented their new vision for the Sergeant Jasper redevelopment. This time, rather than seeking to rezone the property into a PUD, it based its design on the property's existing 3X height district, an outmoded zoning designation allowing heights and setbacks incongruous with the adjacent historic neighborhoods. The result was an 18-story residential tower, retail shops wrapping a parking garage, and a large office building. PSC opposed this design because it was discordant with its surroundings by every objective measure. The BAR deferred the project on its height, scale, and mass, specifically as it referred to the tower.

June 2015: The June 3 meeting of the BAR took place at the Charleston Museum, where the Beach Company returned to unveil a slightly modified proposal. The tower was truncated to 13 stories, but the volume lost in height was added in mass to parts of the other buildings. After hearing lengthy testimony from scores of opposed citizens in front of a packed auditorium, The BAR, in a 3-to-2 decision, voted to deny the plan, citing its being out of keeping with the height, scale, and mass of the surrounding historic district.

July 2015: The Beach Company filed an appeal of the decision in circuit court, requesting pre-litigation mediation with the BAR and the City of Charleston. PSC and HCF filed a joint Motion to Intervene in the pending case, and the neighborhood associations of Charlestowne (CNA) and Harleston Village (HVNA) did the same.

August 2015: PSC, HCF, CNA, and HVNA were granted the right to send representatives to the mediation. Mediation occurred over two weeks, with all parties sworn to confidentiality.

September 2015: An impasse was declared in the mediation, with the Beach Company and the City unable to come to an agreement. The former announced its intent to pursue its case in court. PSC and HCF have announced intent to participate in the lawsuit.