What the heck is the B.A.R.?

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The Charleston Board of Architectural Review

The Charleston Board of Architectural Review

The Charleston Board of Architectural Review decides whether or not to permit changes to the exterior of homes in downtown Charleston South of the center of Line St.   The following description from the Preservation society outlines the form and function as well as the history of the board.  I recommend attending a meeting.  Meetings can be entertaining, educational and sometimes even confrontational.  The photo above is not representational of the current members of the Charleston B.A.R.

The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) in Charleston was established in 1931 to ensure “the preservation and protection of the old historic or architecturally worthy structures and quaint neighborhoods which impart distinct aspect to the City of Charleston, the state and the nation.”

BAR meetings are open to the public and held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, 4:30 p.m., in the third floor conference room of 75 Calhoun Street. Application forms, deadlines for submissions, fees and meeting schedules may be obtained from

City of Charleston
Department of Design, Development and Preservation
75 Calhoun Street / 3rd floor
Charleston, SC 29401-3506
(843) 724-3781

Composed of seven members who are assisted by the city’s Department of Design, Development and Preservation, the BAR reviews all exterior alterations visible from any public right-of-way. The BAR’s jurisdiction encompasses all buildings in the Old and Historic District of Charleston regardless of age, including new construction. Within the Old City District (south of Line Street), the BAR has jurisdiction over buildings more than 100 years old and buildings rated as a category 1, 2 or 3 in the city’s architectural inventory.

A project must usually receive conceptual, preliminary and final approval by the BAR before work can proceed. Conceptual approval of height, scale and mass is arguably the most important approval for new construction. Some projects must come before the BAR several times before this is granted. Preliminary and final reviews are what their names imply: preliminary issues may address windows, small design issues, etc., while final approval encompasses details such as paint color, materials and craftsmanship.

HCF preservation staff review all agenda items coming to the BAR. Staff also meets routinely with homeowners, architects and developers who want to have the Foundation’s input in their design or restoration process.

In its review sessions, HCF staff seeks to determine if the changes proposed generally follow the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. These standards include making sure that original features are repaired or replaced in kind — for example, a wooden column should only be replaced with a wooden column, not fiberglass. New additions to historic buildings should not harm the original building and should respect it by being subordinate in size and scale. Additions should be clearly differentiated from the original construction, yet at the same time be architecturally compatible.

Requests for demolitions are at the heart of the BAR process. When deciding on the merits of a demolition request, HCF staff looks at the physical state of the building to determine if it is damaged beyond repair. They also seek to determine if the structure has architectural merit. Is it the only example remaining of its kind? What happens to the rest of the street if this one building disappears? HCF has been particularly concerned in recent years by an acceleration of demolitions of Freedmen’s Cottages and some 20th century architecture, such as small garage structures.

The idea of style — traditional vs. contemporary — is a big issue in Charleston these days. Beyond the style debate, important considerations for new development is the articulation of heights, scale or mass. In addressing new construction, HCF staff has generally asked that a new structure be appropriately designed for its location, be built of quality materials and with good crafsmanship and attention to detail. HCF consistently asks for excellence in design.

Charting Your Course
The following are some things to keep in mind as you chart your course through the BAR process:

* Know if your property has any covenants and easements on it. If Historic Charleston Foundation or the Preservation Society of Charleston holds an easement or covenant on your property, you will need to first work with that organization to obtain permission for work.

* In addition to the BAR process, separate reviews may need to be secured from the City of Charleston’s Zoning Division, Building Inspections, and Department of Public Services.

* It is always a good idea to retain the services of a qualified architect and contractor.

* Talk to your neighbors about your plans. This is not only a courtesy between neighbors, it may save you time and trouble as you make your way through the process.

* You may be able to obtain city staff approval for small changes to your property. However, for Category 1 buildings and for larger projects, you or your representative (usually your architect) will have to present your project before a public meeting or meetings of the Board of Architectural Review. In making these presentations, be sure to address the site’s architecture and the architectural merits of your application.

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