The nearly 100-year-old Graves House in old town Bluffton can be torn down, a town board decided Wednesday.
On a 5-2 vote, the Historic Preservation Commission agreed with developers who argued the building at 85 Calhoun St. was structurally unsound and could not be saved.
The vote removes a key hurdle for Bluffton United Methodist Church, which plans to buy the property, raze the home and erect a replica in its place, said William Court of Court Atkins Architects, which has been hired by the church.
"To the best of my knowledge, we have met the contingencies of the sale to the church, so the sale should move forward," he said. The new building would be used for church offices and outreach space.
Rather than simply tear down the house, which is a "contributing structure" in the old town Historic District, Court agreed to "sympathetically dismantle" it and reuse as much as possible in the new design. He also agreed not to tear down the home until the church has a permit for the new building.
More than a dozen people, including many old town residents, urged the commission not to approve demolition, claiming the home had historical value and could be salvaged.
Town staff also recommended the commission deny the request for demolition, claiming structural reports submitted by the property's owners did not prove the home cannot be saved.
But attorney Roberts Vaux, hired by owners Michael Hahn and D. Bryan McClure Jr., cited the report from the structural engineers, a home inspector and a termite inspector, all of whom agreed the home was seriously damaged.
"I understand restoration," Vaux said, "but I also understand economics."
He estimated that only 20 to 35 percent of the home could be salvaged and that new construction would cost about half as much as the estimated $800,000 needed to revive the structure.
"The building is skin and bones," Commissioner Doug Corkern said. "When you take the skin ... off, you only have 20 percent of the bones left."
Court said the church likely will move forward with the new building "as soon as [they] possibly can."
In a second vote, the commission decided by a 6-1 vote to allow construction of a 1,200-square-foot addition to Seven Oaks, located at 82 Calhoun St.
The Church of the Cross wants to buy the property and convert it into a central office.
Thomas Viljac, who owns the 1850s-era home, declined to comment on the board's vote and what it might mean for the sale. The church has the property under contract.