BEAUFORT — In a 6-1 vote, with member Janet Woodward dissenting, the Historic Preservation Commission approved a new batch of proposed renovations for the Somerset Square building at 400 Front St. in Beaufort.

The decision came during the HPC’s Tuesday evening regular session at the Broad Street train depot. It marks the second time this year the HPC considered changes to the structure.

“The building is a non-contributing structure,” explained design architect Megan Toma. “It’s in pretty bad shape, it’s painted blue right now and the railings are kind of in pretty rough shape, as are the windows and doors. So we are hoping to renovate the exterior.”

Earlier in the year, the HPC denied a request to renovate the building. Weeks later, the property owners took the matter to the board of adjustment to appeal the HPC’s decision.

During that meeting, the BOA members decided to refer the case back to the HPC for another hearing.

While that hearing has yet to be held, Beaufort Planning and Inspections Director Kyle Garner explained Tuesday’s renovation request is a new one and unrelated to the previous decisions made by the HPC and BOA.

“It is a new application that has not been seen by some of the (HPC) members,” Mr. Garner said. “For others, this may be (similar) to something they have seen earlier. Remember, this is a new application. Do not compare it with anything else.”

In January, the proposed renovations the HPC rejected included a rooftop event space, replacing exterior railings and painting.

This time around, the proposed renovations entailed a different set of renovations, some of which took into account concerns the HPC made when they last discussed the property.

Changes like the rooftop event space were not included in the application Tuesday.

The renovations mostly include exterior changes to the building. These entail, according to Mr. Garner, some new windows, some new lighting fixtures, doors, a rear deck addition and other changes.

Ms. Woodward asked Ms. Toma if the building’s first floor would still be a space for businesses. Ms. Toma said it would.

The building, first constructed in 1980, according to town staff, has been the home of a number of businesses on the first floor. The second floor has, as of recently, served as storage and potential office space.

Ms. Toma told members of the HPC the proposed renovations, when complete, won’t impact the first-floor tenants.

“We want to give more access to our tenants,” Ms. Toma said.

While HPC members approved the certificate of appropriateness, not all of them were convinced the changes lived up to the commission’s standards.

“It would set a worse precedent for the town of Beaufort,” Ms. Woodward said. “(The metal wiring) is not a structure for safety, it’s a decoration.”

One of the primary points of concern was changes the owners planned for the railing, specifically the use of metal wiring.

The wiring, according to Ms. Toma, is to help prevent people from accidently falling into the water. Ms. Toma said Moonrakers, a nearby restaurant, has something similar.  

Ms. Woodward argued the metal wires don’t adhere to the districts aesthetic motif, while Ms. Toma disagreed.

“The (N.C.) Maritime Museum has similar detailing and railings,” Ms. Toma said. “Since those don’t have to have fall protection that we’re going to need to apply, I added the cables. You really won’t notice the cables as much, but they are designed to look similar to the maritime museum.”

Other board members disagreed, saying the metal railing will be behind a more prominent X-shaped rail design.

“The wooden Xs are going to be street-facing so you’re going to see that first thing from the street,” board member Robert Terwilliger said.

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

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