Should Charleston Have a Facade Ordinance?

Should Charleston have a Facade Ordinance?

New York City voted for a facade ordinance in the 1980s in response to the death of a Barnard College student that was struck by a chunk of masonry falling off a building.  In recent years, most facade ordinances have been created around the country as a result of injuries sustained by pedestrians.  Downtown Charleston has had a series of near misses in the last year, with some high profile building problems. The latest discoveries include a facade detaching from a building on King Street, an office building collapse at 11 ½ Philip Street which caused damage to a parked car, and bricks falling from a deteriorated townhouse on Exchange Street. Fortunately no one was injured as a result of faulty facades in the three incidences.

The New York City ordinance requires owners of certain buildings to have regular inspections. The spate of building failures in Charleston may get Charleston to start thinking about the need for facade ordinances said Craig Bennett, a structural engineer and former chairman of the city’s Board of Architectural Review. He told the Post & Courier recently that “many cities have facade ordinances now, and in particular cities that have buildings built in the early 20th century that are seeing a lot of damage.” Most cities with facade ordinances have taller buildings than downtown Charleston, and they have freeze-thaw weather cycles that cause distress to buildings said Michael Petermann, a principal of WJE, an engineering and architecture firm based in Illinois.  However, Kristopher King of the Preservation Society of Charleston said “if a cornice were to fall off a three story building, or even a section of brick, it might as well fall from 30 stories.  It’s going to have the same impact.” King added that many buildings on Broad and Meeting Streets are missing their cornices, particular the People’s Building at Meeting Street and State Street.

City planning director Jacob Lindsey told the Post & Courier that the city may consider a facade inspection ordinance after the city revises its height limits, and rekindles its Demolition by Neglect Task Force. “Our primary concern is public safety and stabilizing buildings and reacting quickly where we hear of problems,” he said. “We want to make sure we are up to date with best practices, so we can protect folks on the sidewalks.”

Source: Post & Courier, “Holy City falling down,” by Robert Behre, June 3, 2017

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