Somerset Square

Somerset Square in Beaufort sits on the shore of Taylor’s Creek at the intersection of Front and Turner streets. The town’s Historic Preservation Commission denied a request Tuesday to update the façade. (Dylan Ray photo)

BEAUFORT — A planned overhaul for a Front Street property has hit a snag following the Historic Preservation Commission’s 3-2 vote to deny a certificate of approval for the project.

The vote came at the HPC’s Wednesday evening meeting at the Broad Street train depot. The vote split the board, with commission members Nancy Francis-Heckman and Richard Olsen casting the dissenting votes.

Megan Toma, an independent architect, presented commission members with project details for Somerset Square at 400 Front St.

“This is a very prominent site for Beaufort,” Ms. Toma said.

Constructed in 1980, the building is currently home to a number of businesses and office space, according to Ms. Toma. Town staff describes the structure as a two-story building with a flat roof, double porches and plain railing.

Ms. Toma detailed the breadth of changes the building would have underwent had commission members approved the proposal. They included the addition of storage space, an open air structure at the roof level, replacing exterior railings and rear three-story deck, among other renovations.

“There will also be an area for bicycle parking,” Ms. Toma said.

While the structure is currently classified as a commercial building, tentative plans would have likely required a mixed-use reclassification.

“It’s currently a mixed tenant building on the first floor,” Ms. Toma said. “We’re still planning on maintaining mixed tenants (on the first floor). The second floor will be residential, four units. On the roof is an events space with a catering (and events) area.”

While the roof will be available for events, the public, including building tenants, would not have had unrestricted access to it under the proposal.

Commission members and residents alike struggled with the proposed aesthetic changes. While the building isn’t a historic building or classified as a contributing structure, members of the board expressed concern about the building possibly clashing with the appearance of the rest of the historic district.

“A contemporary façade, as shown, will undermine the character of the historic waterfront district. (It) Will confuse visitors who think they are coming into an historic waterfront district and would certainly not be in harmony with the historic district,” Beaufort Commissioner Ann Carter said.   

When Ms. Toma presented details of the project, she depicted a building that commission members felt was more modern in appearance.

Commission member Robert Terwilliger suggested Ms. Toma take a month to hash out tentative plans and come back with designs more in line with Beaufort’s Historic District.

Ms. Toma argued she had the theme of the historic district in mind when formulating the renovations.

“We really tried to adhere to all the guidelines,” Ms. Toma said. “I’m really interested in hearing what guidelines we are not adhering to.”

Although board members approved a finding of fact, they did not approve the project as presented.

HPC Chairperson Wendy Davidson said the board does not have the authority to tell Ms. Toma how to design the building.

“We can either approve it as it is presented or not approve it and they would have the option to not come back with another design,” she said.

While commission members originally opted for putting off the decision until they could hold an informational workshop, Ms. Toma said that could have an impact on not only the project, but the businesses inside the structure, as well.  

“We were trying to (start) this construction before the (summer) season,” Ms. Toma said.

Commission members said ultimately, they have to adhere to guidelines that cover a number of historic standards.

“It says … construction should be designed to be compatible with its immediate surroundings,” Ms. Davidson said. “My own tastes aside … I have to follow these guidelines.”

The overarching guideline theme is using material and styles prevalent in the historic district.

“New roofing materials should be compatible with either the existing or original roofing material,” reads historic district roof guidelines.

Not all commission members felt the board should adhere to this rule as strictly as they do, however.

“I use common sense in my decision making,” Ms. Francis-Heckman said. “You have new materials, today, you have materials that did not exist 50 years ago. I believe, in my opinion, is we need to take advantage of the new materials of today.”

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

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