News Column

Demolition bill protecting historic Charleston properties advances

August 7, 2014

By Matt Murphy, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.



Aug. 07--A proposed delayed demolition ordinance in Charleston passed its first test Wednesday, receiving unanimous approval from the city's Municipal Planning Commission.

The law would delay the destruction of historic properties in the city for no more than 135 days after a demolition permit is requested. The delay is established in the hope that some alternate use could be found for the building.

"It's just a period of cooling down and thinking through the process before you tear down a historic building," said Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis, who is on the commission.

The ordinance would apply to properties in historic districts and to individual properties deemed historical by national or city databases.

Instead of being able to demolish a property immediately, properties subject to the demolition stay would need to be reviewed by the Charleston Historic Landmarks Commission -- an existing citizen board -- at a public hearing within 45 days of the initial request for the demolition permit.

After the hearing, the commission would have the ability to delay the demolition of the structure for up to 90 days, during which time the city or the public could offer alternative uses for the building.

If no alternative is found, the building may be demolished.

Alternatively, if the commission determines the building "is well beyond rehabilitation or that the public's interest clearly outweighs its preservation or rehabilitation," it could approve the permit without a public hearing.

Members of the Municipal Planning Commission, a citizen board, brought up concerns related to property rights and the possibility the law could impede future development.

However, since a property would already have to be deemed historic in order to be subject to a stay of demolition, commission members believed the law therefore wouldn't adversely affect someone's property rights.

Developer and commission member J.D. Strickland, for one, said he wanted to make sure the ordinance wouldn't be "a tool of opposition of development," but was satisfied with the city planning department's explanation of the ordinance.

"There's a lot of stuff that needs torn down in this city," he said. "There's a lot that needs preserved."

Besides the demolition aspect of the bill, the law would also formalize three levels of historic designation for properties. Each level has an increasingly stringent process for designation, which involves entities like the Charleston Historic Landmarks Commission and city council.

The first level is simply a designation to observe a building's significance; the second level is a nomination for a historic designation that would subject the building to the delayed demolition rule and requires an advertised public hearing; and the third and highest level is a nomination for a historic designation that subjects the building to delayed demolition and design review, which is only currently active in parts of the East End.

Existing buildings on the local historic register and the National Register of Historic Places would automatically be subject to delayed demolition if the ordinance passes.

The bill must still be approved by council's Planning Committee and the full council before going into effect.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at 304-348-4817 or matt.murphy@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at twitter.com/DMLocalGov.

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(c)2014 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

Visit the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.dailymail.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)


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