Bluffton Town Council debates demolition measures

gmartin@islandpacket.comMay 29, 2012 

For the first 15 minutes of a town workshop Tuesday on the rules dictating demolition in Bluffton, a controversial recent decision concerning a historic home was conspicuously ignored.

Former Bluffton Mayor Emmett McCracken was the first to break the ice.

"Everybody knows we would be somewhere else this afternoon were it not for the second of May," McCracken said.

On that day, the town's Historic Preservation Commission voted 5-2 to allow developers to demolish the Graves House, a nearly 100-year-old structure on Calhoun Street in Old Town.

The house sat vacant for at least two years and has documented structural flaws, but not everyone agreed it was beyond repair.

The decision touched off a nearly 90-minute debate at Tuesday's workshop over how to best preserve the historic district and the processes by which similar decisions regarding demolition must be made.

"Nothing will be decided today; there's not a vote that will be taken," said Mayor Lisa Sulka at the meeting's outset. "But this is for information and suggestions, ... and staff will take notes."

Councilman Michael Raymond urged those opposed to the Graves House decision to consider the financial investment other options might have demanded.

"You can do it if money is no object," he said, "but at some point you have to say that $500,000 to $800,000 is not reasonable to save that property."

Raymond also questioned the fate of its historical integrity if it had been restored.

"We need an ordinance that addresses ... the percentage of the property that's going to be left once we get done with the (restoration)," he said. "Is it really saving a property if all that we have left is 10 or 15 percent of the original structure?"

Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Wallace Milling denied allegations that he had been "duped" by developers and said the controversy the Graves House decision inspired might generate a more refined focus for his committee, which meets next June 6.

"What are we preserving overall? Are we seeking to preserve a place, or are we seeking to preserve character, or a lifestyle, the sense of community?" he asked.

"Are we looking at individual buildings or at buildings that all work together in a framework ... to create a community?"

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