Residents, city both say no to hotel
It isn’t always a pretty process, and people don’t always see eye-to-eye, but a decision that is made with input from the community is usually a better decision than one made without that input.
Such is the case with a lot at the busy corner of Wentworth and Smith streets, which abuts residences in the historic Harleston Village neighborhood.
The owner wanted to tear down the one-story building on the lot that used to house McAlister’s Funeral Home, and build a 42-room hotel with a restaurant, bar and spa. In order to do that, he requested a use variance for the one-acre parcel. He also told city planners that Harleston Village residents were overwhelmingly in favor of his proposal — a factor that city planners considered when they recommended his request be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Here’s where public activism can make a difference: During Tuesday’s BZA meeting, two hours of which were devoted to the hotel issue, some 15 people spoke against the proposal. About five spoke in favor of it. The BZA voted unanimously to deny the request.
The decision might have come down that way in any event. The board concluded that the developer had not proven that he faces a hardship because of the lot’s residential zoning. That’s an essential test for a use variance.
Also, the board indicated that the matter belonged before the city’s Planning Commission and then Charleston City Council, not the BZA. Because the plan called for razing the building that stands on the lot, the question becomes how the lot is zoned, not how it is used.
But board members also noted how impressive it was that so many residents turned out to oppose the hotel.
The developer did not say whether he will continue to pursue his plan for a hotel or go in another direction. But if asked to rezone the property for a hotel, City Council should view it with skepticism, based on the city’s own planning in that regard. The city has designated where hotels would be appropriate based on extensive study, and it did not designate this as a good area for that purpose.
And council should consider the residents’ general opposition to the proposal, as stated at Tuesday’s meeting. As one Harleston Village resident said, “I’ve never heard anyone in the neighborhood say, ‘We need another hotel here.’”
Tuesday’s victory for the neighborhood, however, isn’t the end of the story. The developer has talked about building 17 condominium units there, and has residents worried that the condos would likely be used by College of Charleston students who would park even more cars on the streets. Already the neighborhood is stressed by the number of students who live, park and party in Harleston Village.
Perhaps residents can present a persuasive case for a better use. For example, the lot could be subdivided in five or six lots for single-family houses of a size and scale that are similar to other houses nearby.
It might take speaking up. But that’s something the people of Harleston Village seem to do effectively.