How to Participate
If you plan to attend a public meeting, bear in mind that each board and commission has slightly different rules and procedures regarding the public’s opportunity to comment. Start times and locations of meetings also vary. Here is what you need to know:
- Board of Architectural Review – Large (BAR-L) typically meets 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month @ Gaillard Center Public Meeting Room
- Board of Architectural Review – Small (BAR-S) typically meets 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month @ Gaillard Center Public Meeting Room
- Design Review Board (DRB) typically meets 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month @ Gaillard Center Public Meeting Room
- Board of Zoning Appeals – Zoning (BZAZ) typically meets 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month @ Gaillard Center Public Meeting Room
- Planning Commission (PC) typically meets 3rd Wednesday of the month @ Gaillard Center Public Meeting Room
- City Council (Council) typically meets 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month @ City Hall, Council Chamber
BAR-L, BAR-S, AND DRB
The City of Charleston BAR was established in 1931 with the creation of the first zoning ordinance in the nation enacted to protect a local historic district. The purpose of the BAR is the preservation and protection of the city’s historically and architecturally significant buildings and neighborhoods, as well as its cultural heritage.
Within the boundaries of the city’s historic districts, the BAR reviews all exterior work visible from any public right-of-way, including new construction, alterations, and renovations. The BAR also has purview over all demolition of structures 50 years of age or older south of Mount Pleasant Street, and any demolition regardless of age within the Old and Historic District. Additionally, the BAR has jurisdiction over all structures included on the Landmark Overlay Properties list.
In 2016, the BAR was split into two boards – the BAR-Large and BAR-Small, each made up of five members and two alternates (of which at least two on each board are architects). The BAR-Large hears requests for buildings greater than 10,000 square feet, and the BAR-Small hears requests for those less than 10,000 square feet. Most minor alterations, such as painting, sitework, signage, repairs, etc., are typically reviewed by City Staff and do not require full Board review.
DRB reviews new construction, exterior alterations, and signage for commercial or non-residential (more than eight multi-family units) projects where the property lies within the designated corridors (see DRB List of Corridors). Projects that are less than 3,000 square feet, with certain restrictions, may be reviewed at Staff level and are not required to go before the Board.
- The board chair will begin with an overview of the rules and procedures.
- A city staff member, typically the City Architect, will then introduce the application.
- The applicant will then give their presentation, followed by any questions from the board.
- The board chair will subsequently open the floor to public comment. Individual members of the public are usually limited to around two minutes of speaking time.
- After the public comment period, applicants may respond to comments. The City Architect will then give the City’s position on the matter.
- Next is board discussion, and at this point you will no longer be able to weigh in.
The Board of Zoning Appeals – Zoning (BZA-Z) is a seven-member citizen board appointed by City Council. The BZA-Z hears requests for variances and special exceptions from the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance which generally pertain to changes in use, parking requirements, allowable building footprint, lot occupancy, and lot density. In their decision making, the BZA-Z considers a multitude of factors including potential impacts on a property’s utilization, adjacent properties, as well as neighborhood character and the general public good.
- The board chair will begin with an overview of the rules and procedures.
- The City’s Zoning Administrator will then introduce the application and give the City’s position on the matter.
- The board chair will then open the floor for public comment by asking whether anyone present is in opposition to the application – if no one present is in opposition and if the City is in support of the application, it is typical for the board to vote for approval.
- However, if there is opposition present, the board chair will call for the applicant to make his or her presentation.
- Following the presentation, the board chair will then open the floor for those who wish to speak in favor of the application. Next to speak are those who are in opposition.
- Subsequently, the applicant may respond to the comments. At this point, you will no longer be able to weigh in.
The Planning Commission is a nine-member citizen advisory board who reviews planning items such as zonings and rezonings, subdivisions, and ordinance amendments. Members are selected from a cross section of industries and backgrounds to bring a balanced range of skillsets to the review process. The Planning Commission is required to carefully consider impacts on community character, as well as compatibility with the City’s Comprehensive Plan and other land use policies. Planning Commission recommendations are subsequently sent to City Council for consideration.
- The chairperson will begin with an overview of the rules and procedures.
- A city staff member, typically the Director of Planning, will present the application and give the City’s position as to recommending approval or denial.
- The chairperson will then ask if the applicant is present or wishes to add anything to the City’s presentation.
- The chairperson will next ask if there is any public comment. As with other boards and commissions, the length of time each individual may speak during the public comment period is usually capped at a couple of minutes or less, and this may change depending on the number of people wishing to speak.
City Council: City Council is the elected governing body for the City of Charleston consisting of twelve council members representing individual districts citywide, in addition to the Mayor. Council creates and amends the ZONING ORDINANCE AND CODE OF ORDINANCES, ratifies new city plans and plan amendments, and gives final hearing to recommendations from the Planning Commission on matters pertaining to, among other things, revising city zoning districts and regulating subdivisions and the development of land. The Council Chamber usually fills up quickly, so arrive on time to grab a seat, and so that you can be notified of any agenda items that have been withdrawn or deferred.
- For any matter on the published agenda that is a “Public Hearing,” there will be an opportunity for public comment following City Staff’s presentation of the item.
- However, if you wish to speak about an agenda item that is not a Public Hearing, or about any other matter of concern to you, you may do so in the “Citizens Participation” portion of the agenda. To do so, you must sign up to speak on a sheet directly outside of the Council Chamber prior to the meeting.
- As with other boards and commissions, the length of time each individual may speak during a Public Hearing is usually capped at a couple of minutes or less; however, if a large number of people wish to speak during Citizens Participation period, the time allotted may be less than a minute and sometimes even as little as thirty seconds.