How many hotels here?

  • Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Since 1997, the number of hotel rooms on the peninsula will have increased by more than 62 percent after all those that have been approved are actually built. Pictured is the new Holiday Inn on Meeting Street that opened this year. Buy this photo

Since 1997, the number of hotel rooms on the peninsula will have increased by more than 62 percent after all those that have been approved are actually built.

That was the last time the city updated its accommodations plan.

And more hotels are in pre-approval planning stages.

The hotel boom has led some neighborhoods to complain about overcrowding. The problem has been exacerbated by the increase in cruise ships in which cabins are like hotel rooms and bring additional thousands of people to the streets of Charleston.

Even some hoteliers have waved cautionary red flags about overbuilding. (Apparently there's a limit to professional courtesy.)

Consequently, City Council is considering some adjustments to zoning ordinances to reduce strain in historic areas and encourage hotel growth north of the Crosstown.

Both are good goals.

Some historic areas need relief from the additional tourism that has come with Charleston's designation as the world's best travel destination.

And if commercial growth marches up the peninsula as projected, there will be a need for more hotels to accommodate out-of-town visitors who have business to do nearby.

The revised ordinances would ease pressure downtown by eliminating some of the hotel overlays currently in place. Hotels can be built only in areas where hotel overlays have been approved.

The 50-room cap on new hotels, a restriction now applying everywhere south of Calhoun Street, would extend up to the Crosstown, but new hotel overlays would be added farther up the peninsula. Tim Keane, chief planner for the city, says that 50-room hotels are a good scale for Charleston.

And should council approve the ordinances as presented, new 50-room hotels would be allowed to have restaurants and bars only if they are intended primarily for their guests' use. Those areas could occupy no more than 12 percent of the hotel's square footage.

Mayor Joe Riley isn't ready to say that Charleston has too many hotel rooms. Indeed, he says that hotels have “put people on sidewalks” and in local businesses, brought jobs and added to the local economy.

“But we want to make sure we don't overdo anything,” he said.

Cities should rethink their zoning ordinances regularly, and it's time for Charleston to do so, he said. The initial ordinances for accommodations zones were established in 1982 and updated in 1997.

Preservationists and neighborhood residents seem pleased by the proposed changes, but some commercial property owners aren't so happy about added restrictions.

Both sides will have an opportunity to speak up when the city's Planning Commission considers the proposal. That will occur as early as May. Another public hearing will be held when City Council takes up the Planning Commission's recommendations. The proposed zoning changes are in effect pending City Council's decision.

Given the dramatic growth in hotels, it might have made sense to do this re-evaluation some time ago. Still, it is encouraging that the city is recognizing that there are limits to the amount of construction and number of people that the peninsula can handle without compromising the quality of life for residents and the experience of working in or visiting Charleston.

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