War of words: President of The Point Neighborhood Association opposes proposed massive downtown buildings

Above: Map of downtown Beaufort’s historic core commercial district highlighting five new buildings proposed by Dick Stewart and his 303 Associates including a massive four-story hotel of 50,000 square feet, a massive four-story parking garage of 175,000 square feet, and a massive apartment building, all along a two-block area of Port Republic Street, one block off Bay Street.

The following is a letter sent yesterday, March 19, by Douglas Storrs, President of The Point Neighborhood Association, to the five members of Beaufort City Council and the five members of the Historic District Review Board. The Point is a large historic residential neighborhood of more than 200 residents immediately to the right of Beaufort’s downtown historic core commercial district shown on the map above. Port Republic Street extends three blocks into The Point.

To Beaufort City Council and Historic District Review Board.

As Henry Hope Reed said;

“Man does not build for himself alone any more than he smiles for himself alone, the façade is designed out of respect to the beholder, a form of architectural courtesy to the man on the street.”

In reflecting on the five proposals from Mr. Stewart-303 Associates on, or adjacent to, Port Republic Street, it seems that we are losing, or have lost, focus on the issues that matter.

It is time to stop creating or reacting to all the chatter about due process, rule of law, inappropriate letters to HBF, all that Mr. Stewart feels he has done that benefit everyone etc. and focus on the five proposals currently under review at the Historic District Review Board.

It is of no benefit to argue over matters that have no real bearing on these proposals.

Yes, 303 Associates are following the process laid out by the current regulations.
However, simply following the process does not, and should never, guarantee approval.
Mr. Stewart cannot possible think, nor expect, that his statements about “all that he has done for Beaufort” would provide him with a lesser level of review or any type of expedited review as to his proposals.

Yes, four stories are currently allowed under the Beaufort code and this clearly is an error that needs to be rectified by amendment to the code. Downtown Beaufort is predominately a mix of two story buildings and the addition of multiple 3 and 4 floor structures are simply out of context and puts the entire downtown at risk of losing its historic fabric.

Yes, new development can produce positive economic impacts through increased tax revenue and job growth but this does not mean we should build in any less of a humane and sustainable manner.

Yes, a significant lack of public review and comment occurred during the review of these proposals over the past year when few, if any, residents were able to participate in the meetings due to the restrictions associated with the Covid lockdown.

Yes, these proposals have been, and continue to be, reviewed in a piecemeal manner as opposed to a review of their totality. This is of critical importance to the community at large. Port Republic Street, due to its reduced width, creates unique design challenges that have yet to be properly addressed.

So, now is the time to stop all the unnecessary vitriol from all sides and focus specifically on the proposals, their context, massing and architectural details and how these Impact the downtown of our historic community.

Buildings have a responsibility to complement one another bringing harmony to each street frontage. A traditional downtown is a collection of well-designed façades that respect and enhance the public realm and as such deserve the best architectural treatment for the benefit of the public.

Clearly the proposed four-story parking garage, as currently designed, is a prime example of a building that degrades the public realm and needs significant redesign. Parking garages have proven to be an economic death knell to many downtowns creating large dead zones. The massing of the garage proposal is completely out of scale for the downtown. At a minimum the first story of the structure along Craven and West Streets should contain 20-foot deep retail spaces to insure that the street frontage is of benefit to the public realm. The fourth floor should be set back to create the appearance of a 3 story building from the street level.

The proposed 70+/- room hotel is of a scale and massing that is completely out of context in relation to all the other buildings in downtown.The prospect of adding a fourth floor event space will only exacerbate the problem and should not be permitted.

The proposed three story mixed use buildings on the corner of Port Republic and Charles Street are completely void of the necessary architectural details that are required of their prominent, corner location. The top floor of the building should be set back to reduce the appearance of the mass of the structure. The balconies are substandard and virtually devoid of the appropriate traditional details that will enable the building to respect the historical context within which it is located. Individual ‘floating’ balconies, without the traditional structural support of columns creates a haphazard appearance and visual confusion to the façade.

There has apparently been a complete lack of review of the streetscape along the front of each building. What is being recommended? How will it complement the relationship between the sidewalks and the facades?

These are just some of the many necessary concerns to be addressed before any of the proposals by 303 Associates are allowed to proceed further through the permitting process.

I do believe that the majority of our community understands and supports traditionally designed buildings that are of a scale and massing that are appropriate for our downtown.

One should not expect that each of the members of the HDRB, nor necessarily each of the city staff providing review and recommendations for the project, have a strong architectural background. Bill Allison’s recusal from the review of some of the proposed buildings creates a further concern. Additional architectural review from an outside registered architect is clearly warranted at this point in the review process.

All parties can benefit by insuring that the design of each proposed building is the best it can be. Once they are built, there is no opportunity to correct the design mistakes and shortcomings that are reflected in the current proposals.

So, let’s pause and take the necessary time and all work together to make sure that we are providing for the “architectural courtesy to the man on the street”.

Douglas Storrs
411 New Street
Beaufort, SC

President of The Point Neighborhood Association