Town of Bluffton to consider revising codes to preserve historic buildings

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 13, 2012 

Nearly two weeks after the town's Historic Preservation Committee voted to allow demotion of a 100-year-old house, Bluffton officials have agreed in principal to review the town's historic preservation codes.

No meeting date has been set, but preservation advocates hope the exercise leads to stronger protections for the town of Bluffton's 80 or so contributing structures, including the Graves House, which is nearly 100 years old..

Such structures are considered historically significant.

"I think we need to somehow put criteria in there that will make tearing down the last resort," said Councilman Ted Huffman, who suggested a workshop devoted to the issue.

"Bluffton is growing, and we have a lot of things to tend to in the newer sections, but by God we better take care of what we've got," he said.

Bluffton United Methodist Church wants to buy the Graves House property at 85 Calhoun St., tear down the home and build a replica structure. The church wants to use the new building for offices and meeting space.

Over objections from town planning staff, the historic commission approved a request May 2 to tear down the house, which is a contributing structure in the town's historic district. The house sat vacant for at least two years and has documented structural flaws, but not everyone agreed it was beyond repair.

For some, the decision placed fresh emphasis on preservation.

"It seems like it brought it to the attention of people who said 'Wow, I can't believe they are really going to tear that house down,'" said Hank McCracken, a former historic commission member.

Maureen Richards, director of Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, said she gets calls and emails almost daily from people who are still upset about the vote.

"I am in shock of what happened. I am in shock," she said, adding, "There is a movement to continue this discussion."

Councilman Mike Raymond agrees some changes could improve the ordinance, but he doesn't necessarily support making it harder to demolish.

"I believe ... we can have a measurable standard that will work for everybody," he said. "That way we don't end up with properties that are boarded up, with no trespassing signs out front, that are falling into disrepair because nobody wants to buy them because it's unreasonable to rehab them."

Huffman says he believes the historic commission arrived at the right decision concerning the Graves House given the way town codes are presently written.

But at the very least, he said, requests to demolish should require at least two meetings before a final vote is taken.

"I want to stress that I think the commission made the right decision with the tools that we gave them," he said. "But I think we need to retool them."

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

Related content:

SC: 'Replica' Graves House in old town Bluffton would lose historic status, 05/04/12

Graves House can be torn down, board says, 05/02/12

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