Zoning board to consider new Charleston hotel for old city site
The developer of a new hotel proposed for a historic corner on Wentworth Street says it’s a much better use of the property than becoming condos or student-dominated housing.
Mark Regalbuto will take his case to Charleston’s zoning appeals board Tuesday seeking permission to build a 42-room inn.
The site at 150 Wentworth is where the McAlister-Smith funeral home had operated for decades before moving to the suburbs in 2006.
The lot is also where Christopher Gustavus Memminger, secretary of the Confederate treasury, had lived, though his home was torn down long ago.
Regalbuto wants to raze the 50-year-old funeral building and, in its place, erect a 32,000-square feet boutique-style hotel of about three stories. It will include a guest-only spa, 26-seat restaurant and bar.
The hurdle is that the lot is zoned residential, meaning a city variance is needed to build the inn.
If the lot were to stay zoned as is, it would be suited for about 17 condominium units or a smaller number of single-family homes if the property were to be subdivided, officials said.
Regalbuto said the inn, as designed, would fit into the neighborhood’s theme, operating on about half the available space of the funeral home lot and be shorter in height than the Wentworth Mansion across the street.
Parking would be available on-site in what he is calling an “English-basement” styled garage under the main building.
Regalbuto said the hotel will be billed as a place where visitors “can rest their heads” and walk to the restaurants and tourism areas of the city.
The bar, spa and restaurant would be for guests only, he added. Parking would be done by valet.
Some residents in the area, however, are concerned about increased traffic and potential change in character that a new commercial hotel — built from the ground up — might bring to their neighborhood adjacent to the College of Charleston and Colonial Lake.
Citing differing opinions among its membership, the leadership of the Harleston Village Neighborhood Association voted to stay neutral when the issue goes before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
“In other words, we’re not going to support it and we’re not going to oppose it,” Frank Rupp, president of the neighborhood group, said.
Meanwhile, the Historic Charleston Foundation said it will support Regalbuto’s zoning change application on Tuesday.
“The alternative to this hotel use would be 17 condo units which we believe would have a more intense negative impact on the livability of the neighborhood,” Winslow Hastie, director of preservation and museums for Historic Charleston Foundation, said in a statement.
The foundation said it does plan to stay involved as the hotel’s architectural and site plan elements go forward, including to the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
Since the funeral home operation left, various attempts have been made to develop the site, with the inn/hotel idea being the latest. But the space has remained mostly vacant or been used for local parking.
Speaking separately from his role as neighborhood board president, Rupp said he does have a number of concerns about the precedent of allowing such a hotel in. He also questioned what uses might evolve if the inn fails to draw enough support to continue in operation or pressures mount for high-density housing.
City Planning Director Tim Keane said his office is working on a recommendation on whether to support granting the appeal.
To get a city zoning variance, applicants must demonstrate property hardship under four areas, including one that says approval will “not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property or to the public good, and the character of the district will not be harmed.”
The appeal is one of several items on the board’s agenda Tuesday. The session is set to begin at 5:15 p.m. in the third floor meeting room of 75 Calhoun St.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.