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303 Associates’ Dick Stewart, left, and his attorney Walter Nester, III, of Burr/Forman on Hilton Head Island, answer questions after the City of Beaufort Historic District Review Board voted to approve the Cannon Building project planned for 211 Charles Street. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Downtown apartment building earns final approval 

 By Tony Kukulich 

A 22-month-long process to obtain approval for the construction of an apartment building in downtown Beaufort culminated when the city’s Historic District Review Board (HRB) issued final approval for the Cannon Building project planned for 211 Charles Street. 

During the April 13 HRB meeting, the board voted 3-2 to approve the initiative championed by Beaufort-based 303 Associates. The dissenting votes were cast by board members Michelle Prentice and Maxine Lutz. 

“It’s a great building,” 303 Associates founder Dick Stewart said after the vote. “It’s going to be, as one member said, a gift to downtown. We’re sorry it took this long, but sometimes great projects take awhile. It’s going to be a great one.” 

This was the second time the project team appeared before the HRB seeking final approval for the three-story, 19-unit apartment building planned for the corner of Charles and Port Republic streets. In February, hopes of getting that approval vanished among board debate over the inclusion of balconies and porches in design. 

At that time, the board directed the project architect, Arnie McClure of Coast of Coast Architects, Inc., to return to the board with new plans that eliminated those elements from the design. McClure did so to ensure adherence to the board’s request, but was clear that design for which they were seeking approval included balconies and porches. 

“Beaufort is not Beaufort without porches,” McClure said after the ruling. “It’s part of the lifestyle.” 

Concerns over balconies carried over into the public comments beginning with Lise Sundrla of the Historic Beaufort Foundation. 

“The alternative submission that Mr. McClure made today without the balconies on the building, we feel, is a much better submission than the one with the balconies,” Sundrla said. “That building would be great on Boundary Street. It would be great in another location, but it’s not in character with the small buildings along Port Republic Street. It’s not in character with our historic district.” 

Of the four members of the public who provided comments, they were split evenly between those in favor of the project and those opposed. Peggy Simmer, who spoke in support of the project, drew the ire of Lutz after Simmer leveled criticism at the HRB and the Historic Beaufort Foundation. Simmer said the HRB “seems to have lost its way” and referred to the board’s concerns about the balconies as potential homeowners association or code enforcement issues, and well outside the purview of the board. 

“I resent the tirade that just occurred.” Lutz said following Simmer’s remarks. “I also recall that our instructions initially at each meeting include that the public that speaks should identify what their relationship is to the project and if they have any financial connections to the project.” 

In an email to The Island News following the meeting, Lutz said that Simmer’s criticisms were a violation of HRB protocol and should not have been allowed. 

She added, “This is the third blatant time that a member of the public has offered support for the project without mentioning their relationship to the developer.” 

The city’s staff report recommended approval of the initiative. Vice Chair Mike Sutton said there were no objections substantial enough to stop the project and offered his support. He was joined by Chair Jeremiah Smith and board member Stacy Applegate. Prentice said she would not support the 303 Associates’ project and added that it had a “suburban apartment complex feel” that was not worthy of the city’s historic district. Lutz joined Prentice in her opposition. 

“It’s not the right building for this location,” she said. “Its mass, scale and absolute size are not compatible with the area in which it’s planned, and I will not support it.” 

The issue of the building’s mass and scale were also discussed during the February HRB meeting, prompting City Attorney William Harvey to say at the time that those issues were not to be part of the deliberations. 

“Those have long been decided,” he said. “They are a part of earlier proceedings and are not before you today. It is not proper for you to revisit those issues.” 

Lutz did vote to approve the mass and scale of the Cannon Building project when those matters were before the board. In an email to The Island News, she said she did so at the time in the belief that the developer and architect were willing to consider changes that would reduce the overall mass and scale. She also contradicted Harvey’s assertions that the matters of mass and scale were settled matters. 

“The mass, height and scale have already been decided and the developer has proceeded on that basis – and has a right to,” Harvey said. “Addressing the specific issues the HRB has currently, let them deal with those issues and not revisit old issues that have already been decided.” 

Demolition of the building currently occupying the project site has already been approved, but, according to McClure demolition is not to occur until a building permit for the new structure has been issued. 

“We still have work to do as far as construction documents, the actual drawings to build the buildings,” McClure explained. “That will take months. Then we will apply for a building permit with those drawings. We don’t have a firm timeline on when that will happen.” 

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com. 

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