BEAUFORT — Officials for the proposed Compass Hotel project will have to return to the Historic Preservation Commission during their Feb. 4 meeting and clarify certain aspects of their parking lot design.

This is after HPC members tabled a request to approve multiple design elements at the board’s first regular session of the year Tuesday night at the Broad Street train depot.

The decision to table the issue came after board members listened to concerns put forth by town residents who live adjacent to the proposed hotel site at the corner of Cedar and Orange streets. While HPC Chairperson Robert Terwilliger plans to work with town staff to hash out what aspects of the current designs project officials should consider tweaking, comments were largely centered on fencing and lighting.

Town Planning and Inspections Director Kyle Garner gave an overview of the current tentative plans which include, among other things, opaque fencing and 16-foot lighting.

Prior to the discussion, Mr. Terwilliger sought to distance the agenda item from ongoing controversy surrounding the planned construction of a Compass-branded hotel. He said it's the job of HPC members to consider nothing outside the facts of the case when making their decision.

"This is a random case," Mr. Terwilliger said. "It has nothing to do with prior cases or submissions...so we're going to consider it as a brand new case, just listening to the facts this evening."

He specified the five elements the HPC were requested to consider: the demolition of two existing structures on the property,  lighting, fencing, landscaping and parking lot materials. Out of these five topics, HPC members emphasized the request to demolish existing structures.

"The HPC is tasked with determining whether an historic area has the right to demolish a house, whether it has historic significance or if it is so far gone it can't be saved," Mr. Terwilliger said.

Town staff categorizes the two structures as the latter. Pictures of both structures show dilapidated conditions, and Mr. Garner said one of the two structures is likely to collapse in a few years if left to the elements.

He informed HPC members the State Historic Preservation Office has given the town a letter saying it sees no problem with demolishing the two structures. HPC members also clarified the two structures, while in the historic district, are not historic structures or contributing structures.

Project officials also requested a waiver on the requirement to wait a year after receiving permission to demolish a structure in the historic district. 

"One of the reasons why I particularly wanted this demolition guideline be followed with (pictures of the structures) is so that there is no shadow of a doubt this commission, the town or anyone (has voted for) a historic structure to be torn down for a parking lot,” HPC member Joyce McCune said.

While the board decided to table the matter, Ms. McCune suggested the panel move forward on the request to demolish the two structures, since the board was in agreement, but the HPC ultimately decided to table the entire request.

Prior to asking for details on the project, the board listened to concerns from the residents who live near the project area.

Beaufort resident Craig Hamilton said he was largely in favor of the project but was concerned the proposed fencing would obstruct his view of the water.

HPC member Janet Woodard suggested a fence of a reduced height. Members offered this and other suggestions to project official and head of Greenville-based Baldwin Design Consultants Mike Baldwin, who gave his input at Tuesday's meeting.

Resident Anna DeButts expressed concerns about the height of the light fixtures, saying she preferred lights lowered to 12 feet instead of the planned 16 feet. 

Ms. Woodard suggested the difference could be split to 14 feet.

"We're not locked in to 16 feet," Mr. Baldwin said.

Speaking to board members, Mr. Baldwin said they are open to suggested changes but requested more concrete directives. Mr. Garner said town staff would provide Mr. Baldwin with more information later in the week.

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