Owner, preservationists at odds over future of decaying residence

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 13, 2013 

Attorney Jim Moss is lobbying the city of Beaufort to allow the building he owns at 1411 Duke St. to be demolished, but preservationists argue that it adds to the city's historic district and should be saved.

DELAYNA EARLEY/STAFF PHOTO

At the corner of Duke and Monson streets, a house slowly decays as its owner haggles with the city of Beaufort and preservationists to determine whether it should be torn down or restored.

That debate has been complicated by uncertainty about when the home was built.

"I haven't been able to do anything with it for two years, and I'd like to get on with it," said owner Jim Moss, a local attorney who has twice asked the city for permission to demolish the building at 1411 Duke St. "... Nobody will let me tear this building down, and it was used as a crack house."

The Historic Beaufort Foundation argues the structure lends value to the city's historic district and should be preserved.

Beaufort Six, an S.C. partnership to which Moss belongs, purchased the property in 2007 for $206,000, according to Beaufort County records. The building already was deteriorating.

Moss asked to demolish the building in 2010, but the Historic District Review Board denied his request, according to meeting minutes. He went back before the board Wednesday to try again.

This time, the board, on the suggestion of member Mike Rainey, decided to give the Historic Beaufort Foundation seven to 10 business days to examine the building. Beek Webb, a local contractor who works on historic renovations and with the Historic Beaufort Foundation, also will examine it.

The foundation is expected to report its findings at a special meeting of the review board soon afterward.

The house is listed as a contributing building in the downtown Beaufort Historic District. City project-development planner Lauren Kelly said the Beaufort County Historic Sites Survey, compiled in 1997, indicates the building was constructed in 1924 -- but added that might not be accurate.

The house is not shown on maps from 1924, and Moss said the deed dates only to 1945. He also collected statements from neighbors and inspectors indicating the house was built in the 1940s; its materials also do not appear to be from the 1920s, he added.

Maxine Lutz, the Historic Beaufort Foundation's interim director, said it doesn't matter whether the building was constructed in 1924 or during the 1940s -- it still meets the organization's 50-year threshold for determining historic significance.

Palmetto Trust board member and preservationist Cynthia Jenkins also argues the house should be saved -- she says it's part of an area revival. The trust is partnering with the Historic Beaufort Foundation to restore the Frogmore Lodge at 1407 Duke St.

"I think we're on the verge of turning that block around," she said.

Moss's house was among local properties included in a teaching exercise this summer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation workshop, which was held in Beaufort.

Workshop participants devised a plan that included stabilizing the house, moving it back on the property and renovating it for use as a home.

But Moss said he didn't ask that his house be included in the exercise, and no one has offered to help him pay for any of the suggested changes.

What's more, it's not clear whether the building can be salvaged. Moss estimated it could cost $2,500 to $3,500 to move it, and another $25,000 to $35,000 to renovate it into livable condition.

"More than 90 percent of the wood in the building is rotten," contractor Lowell Landon wrote in a report to Moss. "There is nothing left to rebuild. Besides being an eyesore, it could fall with a good windstorm and kill someone."

Moss said he had to board up the house after discovering people were getting into it at night and possibly using drugs. He believes the activity has subsided.

Moss said he had wants to demolish the building and construct a live/work building on the land with up to three business spaces downstairs and apartments upstairs.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Historic Beaufort home sites focus of preservationist training week

Preservation groups join forces to save Frogmore Lodge

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