A renowned Chicago architect known for historic preservation won a key battle in Charleston, South Carolina, after a judge ruled last week that a local historic board overstepped its bounds.
Joe Antunovich, who runs Chicago-based Antunovich and Associates, told Illinois Business Daily that though the ruling confirmed his company’s belief that Charleston's Board of Architectural Review (BAR) should not have rejected the project based on factors controlled by zoning, he still appreciates the group’s work.
“I think that … it's absolutely fabulous that there's so much concern about preservation,” Antunovich, who was recognized by Landmark Illinois as a Legendary Landmark himself in 2014, said. “We should do all we possibly can to retain the historic nature of this city.”
The project in question involved replacing a building known as the “Sergeant Jasper Apartments” with a 13-story, 20th century, brick-style tower. Because it sits adjacent to a historical district, opponents argue the building should be no taller than 55 feet, in accordance with historical preservation guidelines.
At a meeting last May, the architectural review board deferred ruling on a “Certificate of Appropriateness” --necessary to move the project forward. The plan at that time called for an 18-story building, arguably the tallest building in the city.
As part of its deferment, the BAR implored Antunovich and The Beach Company, which is developing the property, to present revised plans. Since that time, a number of plans have been submitted, all of which have been rejected by the BAR.
The BAR's action, Antunovich said, creates uncertainty for all developers when proposing projects in what some developers have called one of the top five development markets in the nation.
“Any developer, any architect, any engineer … will look at the zoning codes say, ‘well we think these are the guidelines, but we have to go to the BAR, and who knows what they’re going to do,’” he said. “How can you plan for something that’s really an opinion?”
Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson, Jr. agreed with Antunovich and the other defendants, ruling that the BAR could not rule based on matters that relate to city zoning, such as building height.
In addition to meeting what he calls the “stringent guidelines” of the zoning requirements, Antunovich said the design was intended to closely replicate the city’s historic architectural history. This, he said, was done in spite of the fact that the building’s location is in an area that is largely not historical. The lot sits adjacent to a dirt parking lot, a Coast Guard station, a playground and a residential neighborhood. The residences to the north, he said, were constructed much more recently than those in other historic districts.
“Sergeant Jasper is a perfect example of where I think the historic confines of Charleston are being overstepped,” Antunovich said. “The judge pointed out that there really was not a historic neighborhood surrounding our project, and yet all of the guidelines are being applied to this site.”
The ruling can still be appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The city has not yet indicated whether it plans to appeal the ruling. In January, Charleston welcomed its first new mayor in 40 years. The inauguration of John Tecklenberg came just as the over 80-year-old BAR decided to split into two separate boards--one handling projects larger than 10,000 square feet, and the other handling all other historic projects.
In the meantime, Antunovich, who became famous for his work throughout Chicago doing historic preservation projects, looks forward to working with the city of Charleston.
“We would just be very appreciative of being able to join hands and move forward with the right project for this site,” he said.
In an interview with the Illinois Business Daily earlier this week, Antunovich said both sides need to put their differences aside.
“With regards to the politics of historic preservation boards and other governmental entities, we all really need to work together,” Antunovich said. “The most successful are the ones that listen and support one another. That is rule No. 1: be nice; No. 2: work together; and No. 3: listen and respect what each other says. Because if the goal is to restore and keep a wonderful historic building within the community, the rules should be clear and it is very clear what the rewards can be.”