A new process for approving developments along Bladen Street would jeopardize Beaufort's eligibility for federal preservation grants if used everywhere in the city's historic district, a state official says.
The new process, which allows developers to bypass city review boards, also has stoked concern among local historic preservationists, who said it sets a bad precedent and could threaten the integrity of the historic district.
The Historic District Review Board was established to review new development and exterior changes to properties inside an area designated by the city as a historic district. But the city recently adopted a Bladen Street redevelopment district zoning code -- a form-based code that focuses more on what structures look like and less on how they are used. Beaufort officials intend to eventually apply form-based codes throughout the city.
Bladen Street is partially within the historic district.
The form-based code authorizes city staff to approve development plans -- to move developers' applications more predictably and quickly through the system. In the past, applications would have gone through the Historic District Review Board or Design Review Board, depending on the property's location.
The code requires appeals of staff decisions to go to the Design Review Board, even if the property is in the historic district.
Pete Palmer, chairman of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, said he and other foundation members worry that removing the Historic District Review Board from the process could diminish the district's character.
Palmer said that even if he could accept the staff-approval component, it would still be difficult for the public to get its "arms wrapped around an application and react" in time to appeal.
The foundation plans to continue lobbying to uphold the board's role in the historic district.
"I'm optimistic (city officials) will see the logic in what we're saying," Palmer said.
The foundation also is trying to determine what will happen if development plans are no longer sent to the board.
Jennifer Satterthwaite, local government coordinator with the S.C. Department of Archives and History's historic-preservation office, said the city would lose its status as a "certified local government" if it stopped using the Historic District Review Board entirely.
The program, administered by the National Park Service and historic preservation offices in each state, allows participants to apply for federal historic preservation funding and participate in training.
Attempts Monday to reach a city planner were unsuccessful. It's unclear how much money Beaufort has received from the grant program.
Beaufort's historic district also holds a National Historic Landmark designation from the National Park Service. Satterthwaite said she didn't think a change in the development approval process -- even eliminating the Historic District Review Board -- would affect that designation.
Mayor Billy Keyserling said the City Council wouldn't want to do anything to threaten the city's participation in the certified local government program and likely would refine the Historic District Review Board's role.
"This is new to everyone, and we're going to go about it very incrementally," Keyserling said. "We're working very civilly with HBF on how to handle this."