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December 2008

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How to get deal with architectural review boards

Rumor has it that in Charleston, the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) is almighty—a force to be reckoned with (and then some). While they certainly sit squarely in the center of our building and rebuilding universe, much can be gained from simply knowing the right approach. Just ask architect and board member Eddie Fava, who obliged our request for clarification on the ins and outs of getting approved


Check Jurisdictions: “Currently, the board has jurisdiction over renovations, demolitions, and new construction on the peninsula south of Line Street. We also need to approve the demolition of any historic home south of Mount Pleasant Street and review projects near the Ripley Light Marina,” says Fava. “If you aren’t sure whether you are under the Board’s jurisdiction or not, it is wise to check in with us before moving forward with a building project.” Hire Professionals: Save yourself some headaches—and money down the road—by choosing a reputable architect and builder. “It is cost-effective to have trusted, licensed professionals involved in the BAR approval process,” says Fava. “They know the process and can help you meet with Board staff when any issues come up. There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to construction materials and techniques, and homeowners can avoid problems by hiring people who can properly carry out BAR standards.” Tip: When choosing a contractor, ask if they have had experience working with the BAR, then inquire as to the extent. Source Carefully: The Board requires that materials used for repair or replacement be made in-kind whenever possible. “This means that we want you to use the same or similar material as was used in the original fabric of the house,” says Fava. “We don’t have one preferred source for these materials, but we can always suggest one.” Tip: Avoid the expense of replacing windows and other architectural elements by doing regular maintenance on your home. Save the Date: The Board meets at 4:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, with application deadlines the week prior. All cases are considered on a first-come, first-served basis. Tip: “The BAR always has a high volume of projects to review, so in addition to scheduled meetings, it is best for an owner or hired professional to keep the Board staff updated on the progress of your project,” says Fava. This can help you avoid a pile-up of issues down the line. Call With Questions: “There have been so many cases in which a few phone calls and a little legwork at the beginning of the process would have made it so much easier in the end,” says Fava. Read: Unapproved construction might have to be torn down and rebuilt, at a high cost to time and money. Tip: Go into the approval process knowing that you may need to make a few compromises—try to think of them as a small price to pay for living on storied streets. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: The approval process for large projects requires that your renovation plans be considered at three public meetings. “But keep in mind that we assess everything on a case-by-case basis, so you don’t necessarily have to go through the three-step process for each project. For a small alteration like changing a paint color, you just have to submit an application to be reviewed by a staff member. And no matter the size of your project, they’re always happy to answer questions that come up.” Tip: For application information, detailed guidelines, and more, visit the BAR’s office on the third floor of 75 Calhoun Street or log on to the city’s website, www.charlestoncity.info. Consider Appearances: BAR guidelines say that you only need approval for alterations visible from a public right of way. Still, you need to be careful. “People will begin making unapproved changes because they think the project will be completely hidden from view when in fact, it isn’t. The Board may also need to consider any interior renovations that would change the property’s exterior or façade. For example, altering a fireplace can affect the exterior chimney.”




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