Columbia’s design commission on Thursday voted to recommend to City Council that it grant landmark status for three buildings on the old State Hospital campus on Bull Street — an act by council that could derail talks in one of the largest land deals in Columbia history which insiders say could have a $1 billion impact over the next 20-25 years.
The issue has become a political flashpoint in the upcoming race for mayor, and attorneys for the campus’s owner — the S.C. Department of Mental Health — say granting landmark status could threaten the $15 million sale of the 165-acre tract to an Upstate developer.
The Columbia Planning Commission on Monday deferred action on the three buildings after first-term council member and mayoral hopeful Moe Baddourah unexpectedly asked its members and the members of the Design, Development Review Commission to consider landmark status for the Ensor laboratory and the bakery and laundry buildings. It deferred the issue because members said Baddourah’s requests were submitted in a “haphazard and disjointed” way, and because the city is presently negotiating a development agreement with Greenville’s Bob Hughes that would include the preservation of some historic buildings.
However, design commission members said that since its action were just a recommendation to council and the buildings meet the criteria for landmark status, they would go ahead and take action.
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“Ultimately City Council will make the final determination and they can choose to ignore our recommendation,” member Dale Marshall said.
Five members of the nine-member commission were present to vote. The vote was unanimous.
Baddourah 13 days ago unexpectedly applied for landmark status for nine buildings without consulting the current or potential owners of the sprawling tract. Then on Monday, without explanation, Baddourah deferred five of those requests, withdrew one and left three on the agenda.
Baddourah in a written statement later said he was trying to open a public discussion on historic preservation at the site and prevent a repeat of the Palmetto Compress controversy. The city is stepping in to buy the century-old brick warehouse at Blossom and Pulaski streets for nearly $6 million in taxpayer money with the hope that a developer can reuse it.
But the potential of the Bull Street redevelopment dwarfs the $40 million student housing project that was killed in the controversy over the Palmetto Compress building. A 2005 plan developed by renowned architect Andres Duany and his team called for more than 1,200 houses, apartments and condos and hundreds of thousands of square feet of offices and retail.
The plan also called for the preservation of 17 of the campus’s 55 buildings. So far, city zoning agreements have protected only five buildings.