Charleston City Council defers approval of new hotel regulations

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The Grand Bohemian Hotel at the corner of Meeting and Wentworth streets - SHELBY DEL VECCHIO
  • Shelby Del Vecchio
  • The Grand Bohemian Hotel at the corner of Meeting and Wentworth streets
Charleston City Council voted Tuesday evening to defer a vote on a new set of regulations that would affect the future of hotel development throughout the city.

Stemming from a 90-day study on hotel growth in Charleston, the proposed ordinance would limit future developments in the city’s accommodations overlay zone from displacing housing and office space, stop developers from skirting the city’s 50-room limit on hotels in certain portions of the peninsula, eliminate the full-service hotel zone which allows for an unlimited number of rooms for hotels that offer adequate conference space and a restaurant. Developers would also be required to meet certain transportation requirements, such as adequate guest drop-off areas, account for the maximum number of employee parking, incentivise employee use of public transportation, and provide shuttle services downtown for hotels located outside of the urban core.

According to Planning Director Jacob Lindsey, there are 4,930 hotel rooms currently on the peninsula. Of those, 769 were built since 2013 when the city passed the last updated regulations, and an additional 1,031 rooms have been approved, but have yet to be built. The hotels that have already received approval would not be held to the proposed requirements if they are ever passed.

Mayor John Tecklenburg, who has proposed a temporary moratorium on new hotel construction in the past, called the new set of regulations a good start, asking that the ordinance be allowed to pass first vote so that the plan could be tweaked before returning to council. Councilman Dean Riegel, a staunch opponent of the moratorium, spoke out in favor of the new regulations, saying that any necessary changes to the ordinance could be made later.

The first strike against the new changes came from Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who was joined by Councilman Bill Moody in saying that the ordinance still felt too much like a moratorium on future hotel development. Moody argued that hotels are perhaps the least intrusive of all developments when compared to housing, office, and retail uses, adding, “It feels like this is a solution looking for a problem.”

Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson was among the members of council who said that the issue needs closer study before any major vote is made and asked that city staff look into exactly how much retail space could actually be displaced by new hotel developments. For Councilman Mike Seekings, the proposed changes are too inflexible and don’t quite match the original recommendations offered by the 90-day study, especially as they concern transportation issues on the peninsula.

Following the deferral, city staff has been asked to go back to the drawing board to reassess the proposed changes, taking into account the concerns of council. Mayor John Tecklenburg proposed that his fellow city officials further discuss what regulations need to be put in place at their upcoming workshop meeting on Sept. 8, but still asked that council give consideration to the ordinance put before them.

“The applications have been coming fast and furious,” said Tecklenburg, “and I feel like we need to go ahead and put this in place so that we let folks know that we’re serious about making what really can be thoughtful, long-term changes with your input and recommendations."

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