Charleston City Council Passes New Zoning Laws to Refine Building Heights and Design

Charleston City Council Passes New Zoning Laws to Refine Building Heights and Design

The Charleston City Council approved a new set of zoning rules to limit the recent trend in building heights and design that will help preserve the Southern architecture that is unique to the Holy City. Recent trends have led to larger developments across the city landscape, and even with height restrictions have led to more boxy and tall buildings. “You can look at new modern builds, such as the new development at the corner of King and Spring streets, that are big and boxy that are very different from Charleston’s beautiful architecture,” said City Planner Jacob Lindsey to the Post & Courier. “Frankly we think Charleston can do better than that.”

The City Council made two key changes to zoning laws to set the direction for a more creative approach to designing new architecture in downtown Charleston. First, the height restrictions will now be based on how many floors a building has rather than how tall it can be as measured in feet, and will be carefully mapped, block by block. The city planners and zoning staff have worked closely with DPZ Partners during the last two years to analyze the height restrictions throughout the peninsula, and how to make new buildings more conforming to the existing architecture in the city.

The new zoning laws include a new height map that consolidate 14 districts into 10 new districts throughout the peninsula, and give each district a new set of standards for the number of floors that can be built. “Measuring height by story gets us better buildings,” City Planner Jacob Lindsey said. “Before, we had developers compressing as many floors as possible into whatever their height limit was.” This will result in most height limits being reduced across the Charleston landscape.

“The overall concept is this: the center of the city should be taller, tapering down heights in our neighborhoods, and that principle is intact,” he told the Post & Courier.  “But even in the spine of the city where tallest heights are called for, the new system only calls for a maximum of eight stories, where previously we had 10 stories or taller.”

The other major revision to existing zoning laws enables the Board of Architectural Review to have a more detailed set of standards when evaluating a new project’s design, which will add a new level of scrutiny on the details of a new building project.  The goal is to establish more predictability in the approval process since all parties will know exactly what the rules are.  The new rules will enable the Board to have a role in roof design, instead of cutting them all off in a flat-top effect.

Source: Post & Courier, “Holy City to cultivate new look, by design,” August 24, 2017

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