National Park Service intervenes to help preserve historic downtown commercial district

Proposes comprehensive Integrity and Condition Study of Beaufort’s National Historic Landmark District

The United States National Park Service (NPS) yesterday notified Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray and City Manager Bill Prokop that the NPS proposes to conduct a comprehensive Integrity and Condition Study to “document the district and highlight positive preservation actions as well as items that may require attention”. This action is in response to reports to the NPS of threats to the historic integrity of the district as the result of a massive convention hotel, parking garage, apartment building, and other downtown commercial facilities planned by 303 Associates and underway toward approval by the City’s Historic District Review Board. Demolition of existing buildings on large portions of the planned sites has been accomplished by 303 Associates over the course of many years without any City requirement of replacements before demolition or the City referring these grossly oversize plans to the Zoning Board of Appeals for special exceptions as required by law.

Graham Trask, Beaufort native and downtown investor, and Will Cook, Beaufort native and associate general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, spearheaded contact with the NPS several weeks ago. Two of Trask’s companies owning historic commercial buildings downtown recently brought a lawsuit against the City and 303 Associates challenging the City’s approval process for these planned new buildings and alleging the City’s non-compliance with its own historic-preservation ordinances. Cook’s primary area of responsibility for the National Trust includes litigation advocacy on behalf of the National Trust in courts across the United States.

Mayor Murray stated at the City Council meeting last evening that he would be pleased to have the National Park Service conduct this study. Here is the text of the letter from the National Park Service:

Dear Mayor Murray and Mr. Prokop:

The National Park Service (NPS) recently learned of concerns within the Beaufort Community about potential threats to the historic character of the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District. As the primary steward of the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District, we wanted to reach out to your office to provide some information on the National Historic Landmarks Program, and to offer our assistance. In the attached letter we provide the above.

The NPS is charged with monitoring National Historic Landmarks to ensure they retain the qualities for which they were designated (36 CFR 65.7). The aim of the National Historic Landmark monitoring program is to identify properties that have lost historic integrity or face threats so that owners, stewards, policy makers, and the public can take action to preserve these important places for future generations. NPS’ role is to provide guidance that will help to preserve the historic property and prevent the withdrawal of designation under the procedures outlined in 36 CFR 65.9.

Historic districts like the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District can be challenging to preserve. They are often vibrant commercial and social centers, which must adapt to meet the needs of residents and visitors. Periodically it is important to re-examine historic districts to understand how they have changed and how those changes have affected, for good or bad, the district’s historic integrity. NPS staff believe a comprehensive study, which can serve as a guidepost for those involved in future decision making, will be a helpful tool for the district. This comprehensive Integrity and Condition Study would document the district and highlight positive preservation actions as well as items that may require attention. NPS staff believe an Integrity and Condition Study will also serve as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with members of the Beaufort community and a better understanding of the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District.

NPS staff have had preliminary conversations with City of Beaufort staff about the possibility of NPS funding an Integrity and Condition Study for the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District. We now wanted to start a conversation with your office about the possibility. If NPS were to fund a study, we would hope the City of Beaufort could offer some assistance, such as reviewing study drafts, providing, or, suggesting locations for public meetings, and helping facilitate the contractor’s fieldwork and research.

We look forward to re-visiting the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District and hope that we can do so in partnership with the City of Beaufort. Please reach out to Cynthia Walton, at Cynthia_Walton@nps.gov or (404) 354-6072, to ask any questions, or discuss next steps.

Sincerely,
Regional National Historic Landmarks Program

National Park Service, Interior Region 2
National Historic Landmarks Program
100 Alabama St., SW
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 507-5791