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St. Philip’s Leadership Opposes Cumberland St. Development in Letter to Mayor, City Council, Others

News--Cumberland St.

News--Cumberland St.

Rendering by Bello Garris Architects of the 21-unit Cumberland St. condominium project scheduled to break ground later this year.

Landmark Partners, a Baltimore development company, aims to soon begin the first phase of construction on a four-story condominium project on Cumberland Street between Church and State Streets, directly across the street from St. Philip’s Parish House. 

“This will be a very contemporary 4-story condo complex,” the Rev. Brian McGreevy wrote in a letter to the St. Philip’s vestry last week. “The first we heard of it was through a newspaper article in the Post and Courier. It has already received preliminary [Board of Architectural Review] approval.”

With the approval of the wardens and vestry, the St. Philip’s leadership sent a letter in opposition to the project to Mayor John Tecklenburg; City Councilman Mike Seekings; City of Charleston Board of Architectural Review Chair John Robinson; City of Charleston Director of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability Robert Summerfield; the Historic Charleston Foundation; and the Preservation Society of Charleston:

July 20, 2022

Dear Mayor Tecklenburg,

We are writing to express our deep concern and dismay over the proposed 26-28 Cumberland Street project that would occupy the entire block of Cumberland Street opposite our historic church campus in the heart of Charleston’s historic district.

As stewards of nearly an entire block of Charleston’s National Historic District, the St. Philip’s congregation has sacrificially maintained its buildings and grounds for centuries to keep them beautiful and an asset to the city. Within one block of the church are other iconic buildings such as the city’s oldest building, the Powder Magazine, as well as the French Huguenot Church and the Dock Street Theater. Perhaps the most painted and photographed view in the city is looking down this block of Church Street, with St. Philip’s magnificent building and steeple being framed by the Dock Street Theater and the Huguenot Church.

In recent months, St. Philip’s has at great expense completed a world-class restoration of its nationally important 18th and 19th century wrought iron work and the brick and masonry gateposts for our historic cemetery, as well as a refurbishing of its beloved and massive cypress doors that date from the early 19th century. We have worked with the City and the Board of Architectural Review to ensure that every detail of these projects continues to contribute to the irreplaceable history and beauty of our property. We are currently working on a major and expensive effort to preserve and repair our historic church sanctuary, following in the footsteps of earlier St. Philip’s congregations who have restored the church after the devastating fire of 1835, the earthquake of 1886, as well as after wars and hurricanes.

Imagine our shock and surprise and confusion to read in the Post and Courier recently that a massive and very contemporary new condominium project had been approved by the City directly opposite St. Philip’s campus, occupying the entire block of Cumberland Street across from our historic and beautiful parish hall. We were utterly blindsided by this project, which at four stories tall will loom over our property and Cumberland Street and disrupt the viewshed from the church and our campus. Apparently the project will not have a final public hearing, so we have never even had the chance to be heard about this project, which would be an unsightly and jarring addition to a part of the city heretofore renowned for its charm and classic proportions. Though the small and charming one and two story buildings currently on the site will have their facades incorporated into the project, the entire look of the block will change, as the new building is primarily metal and glass, with black as the primary exterior color. The design of the new building is extremely contemporary and makes no effort whatsoever to relate to the surrounding buildings in terms of materials or color or fenestration or anything else.

Can you imagine Bostonians allowing a large block-long steel and glass contemporary building to be built across from the side of Old North Church, or Parisians allowing such a building along the side of Notre Dame? Charleston is a world-class city whose fidelity to our motto Ædes Mores Juraque Curat (Latin for “She Guards Her Temples, Customs, and Laws”) has helped us earn distinctions such as the Condé Nast Top City in the world; indeed, since Susan Pringle Frost and others began the historic preservation movement in this city and country in 1920, we have zealously guarded the treasure of the beautiful historic buildings with which we have been entrusted. The beauty of our historic district is what makes Charleston iconic; filling it with buildings like the project proposed opposite St. Philip’s is simply unthinkable. 

Since 1723, St. Philip’s Church has graced Church Street with its architectural splendor and spiritual vitality. One of the city’s most iconic buildings, its steeple is instantly recognizable and helps define Charleston’s sobriquet “The Holy City.” Vitally important in the American Revolution, St. Philip’s congregation and rector helped set the course for American independence, and our churchyard is the resting place of numerous patriots, including signers of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. In recognition of its irreplaceable architecture and history, St. Philip’s is not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but also has achieved the coveted distinction of being a National Historic Landmark—a building and site of national importance and distinction.

Once we were alerted by the newspaper article about this proposed project, we went back and watched the recording of the B.A.R. meeting where the preliminary approval was granted. To our shock and dismay, there was not ONE mention of the project’s proximity to our National Historic Landmark church in the entire hearing, which characterized the neighborhood as “Light Industrial.”

How can this be? The charge and mission of the B.A.R. set forth in the City Ordinance still in effect states that the purpose of the Board is “the preservation and protection of the old historic or architecturally worthy structures and quaint neighborhoods which impart a distinct aspect to the city and which serve as visible reminders of the historical and cultural heritage of the city, the state, and the nation.” To fail to even mention or consider a National Historic Landmark like St. Philip’s in approving such a massive and inappropriate project surely seems to be a dereliction of a sacred duty.

If this project is built, future generations will wonder who was asleep at the switch that allowed such a thing to happen. We urge and plead with you to intervene in whatever way possible to find a better way forward and a better design for this project that will not mar the sacred beauty of St. Philip’s and environs but will instead contribute to the storied charm of our fair city.

Respectfully,

The Rev. Jeffrey S. Miller
Rector

 

Mrs. Kathryn Pearce Phillips
Senior Warden

Mrs. Penn Lilly Hagood
Junior Warden

The Rev. Andrew R. O’Dell
The Rev. Brian K. McGreevy
The Rev. Justin C. Hare
The Rev. William K. Christian
Clergy

Mr. Jason T. Ayers
Mr. Allen Gantt Folline III
Mr. F. Cordes Ford IV
Mr. W. Foster Gaillard
Dr. Joanna C. Ghegan
Dr. Langdon A. Hartsock, Sr.
Mr. Robert M. Kunes
Mr. Robert F. Marion
Mrs. Suzanne Morris McCord
Mrs. Jill Ann Ackerman Settle
Vestry Members

Add Your Voice!

Please take a moment to write to these elected representatives and staff to express any concerns you may have about this proposed project, which might include such things as 
--failure to include St. Philip's in the planning and approval process for the project
--the inappropriate nature of the design for our historic neighborhood
--the faithful stewardship St. Philip's has exercised for centuries to maintain and enhance the sacred beauty of our church and its environs
Your communication will be most effective if you express your feelings in your own words.
John J. Tecklenburg
Mayor
tecklenburgj@charleston-sc.gov
P.O. Box 652
Charleston, SC 29402
Boyd Gregg
Charleston City Council 
District One Councilmember
greggb@charleston-sc.gov
80 Broad Street
Charleston, SC 29401

Mike Seekings
Charleston City Council
District Eight Councilmember
seekingsm@charleston-sc.gov
80 Broad Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Robert Summerfield
Director of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability
summerfieldr@charleston-sc.gov
2 George Street
3rd Floor
Charleston, SC 29401