Stricter parking requirements for downtown hotels gain approval from Charleston City Council

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Future hotels looking for city approval in downtown Charleston will face a few extra hurdles in terms of parking requirements - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Future hotels looking for city approval in downtown Charleston will face a few extra hurdles in terms of parking requirements
With a record amount of hotel growth expected in Charleston this year, future hotel development on the peninsula will face greater scrutiny when it comes to parking and employee transportation.

Earlier this week, Charleston City Council approved new requirements for new hotels in the city’s accommodations overlay zone, which runs along the center of the peninsula south of the Septima Clark Parkway. Under the new rules, the Board of Zoning Appeals must consider plans for valet parking services and guest drop-off locations before granting approval. Hotel developers must also account for the number of employees driving to work, where they will park, and provide incentives for employees to use public transportation when possible.

Having campaigned on a proposed moratorium on new hotels on the peninsula, Mayor John Tecklenburg was met with resistance from fellow city leaders who soured to the idea. Instead, Tecklenburg proposed a 90-day hotel study last year to assess the state of hotel growth on the peninsula. The study found that a record number of hotel rooms was set to be added to the peninsula in 2017, with 451 new rooms coming on line this year. At the time of the study, there were 4,930 hotel rooms existing or under construction on the peninsula, and more than 1,300 new rooms were expected to come online over the next four years.

The new parking and transportation requirements recently approved by City Council stem from the 2016 hotel study. Originally, a wide-reaching set of changes was proposed that included limiting future developments in the city’s accommodations overlay zone from displacing housing and office space, stopping developers from skirting the city’s 50-room limit on hotels in certain portions of the peninsula, and eliminating the full-service hotel zone which allows for an unlimited number of rooms for hotels that offer adequate conference space and a restaurant. This proposal has been deferred indefinitely by City Council.

In terms of total vehicular traffic, a 2016 traffic study found that a 50-room hotel in Charleston generates around 26 trips during peak morning hours and 30 trips during peak evening hours. For comparison, a 53-unit apartment building generates 30 trips during peak morning hours and 47 in the evening. For a small office building, total peak-hour traffic is around 106 trips during the morning rush and 132 during evening peak hours.

Among the peninsula’s hotel inventory at the time of the study, hotels with 50 or fewer rooms were the most common. On the other end of the spectrum, hotels with around 250 rooms generate 133 trips during morning peak hours and 150 during the evening.
While the revamped requirements on drop-off locations and employee parking gained City Council’s approval this week, one proposed requirement was stripped from the new ordinance before final vote.

West Ashley representatives were united in opposition to a requirement that larger hotels outside of the downtown area provide detailed plans for a dedicated shuttle service to transport customers onto the peninsula. Councilman Bill Moody said that such a requirement could possibly drive away hotel developers hoping to build in West Ashley, causing them to take their business to North Charleston or Mt. Pleasant.

Jacob Lindsey with the city’s Planning Department said the inclusion of shuttle buses already exists in the list of the special exception criteria for hotels outside of peninsula. This proposed plan would just require developers to submit a clear plan as to how their shuttle service will operate.

The first vote on the new changes to hotel requirements, including the proposal on shuttle services, failed to pass. Councilmen Keith Waring, Marvin Wagner, Bill Moody, William Dudley Gregorie, Peter Shahid, and Dean Riegel opposed the plan. Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson was absent for the vote.

With the shuttle requirement removed, the new rules for valet services and employee parking gained almost unanimous approval, with one lone vote in opposition from Councilman Rodney Williams.

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