Charleston room boom spurs new rules on hotel size and location

Dan Blumenstock, past president of the Charleston Area Hospitality Association, has concerns on possible new hotel regulations for downtown Charleston and believes one-size-fits all is inappropriate. Buy this photo

Charleston is looking to take some of the air out of the hotel room bubble that’s formed on the peninsula.

City Council is poised to adopt new rules regulating the size and location of accommodations businesses when it meets next month.

One of the biggest changes calls for extending the city’s 50-room limit on new lodgings from Calhoun Street north to the Septima Clark Expressway.

The proposed revisions also would eliminate hotel zoning in certain areas along Meeting and St. Philip streets to prevent intrusion into nearby residential areas.

But an exception to the proposed limits has raised concerns from the preservation group that has pushed for the new restrictions. And some hoteliers worry about the impact of the updated regulations.

The proposals won’t halt hotel development on the peninsula. The major projects that are either underway or previously approved aren’t affected. Those include the 304-room property scheduled to begin construction soon near King and Spring streets; a 185-room hotel planned for the site of the old Charleston County Library off King; a 165-room hotel coming to upper Meeting; and a 161-room hotel proposed for the former federal building across from Marion Square.

All told, nearly 1,500 new rooms are in the works for peninsular Charleston, many of them smaller projects.

“Anything speculative but hasn’t gotten a permit, this would stop that from happening,” said Tim Keane, the city’s director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability.

“Our feeling is that the accommodation use is a very important one,” Keane said. “We have to be very protective of it. We think we need to dial back on it a little bit.”

Mayor Joe Riley said he supports the changes.

“You don’t want too many of any one thing,” Riley said. “Hotels are valuable and contribute much to the city, but you want to make sure land is available for other uses. You want to make sure there is diversity.”

He called the revisions “very sound,” adding, “We are thinking long-range.”

The city is proposing an exception to its expanded 50-room zone, which for now affects projects south of Calhoun Street. That provision would allow hotels with more than 50 rooms provided they have at least 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service restaurant. Also, those properties would have to be within the area bound by Mary, King, Line and Meeting streets.

Riley said that serves a useful purpose for visitors and residents because the bigger properties could handle wedding receptions and other civic gatherings that a smaller lodging could not accommodate.

The city last updated its accommodations rules in 1997. A local organization drew attention to the surge in downtown hotel development in the spring by calling for new restrictions. The Preservation Society of Charleston said this spring it was concerned about overbuilding and the impact it would have on the peninsula.

“We are being inundated with hotel proposals, and it’s not healthy for the historic district,” Robert Gurley, the group’s director of advocacy, said in April.

The group is now hailing the proposed expansion of the 50-room cap and the city’s effort to prevent hotels from encroaching on residential neighborhoods.

“We believe this will lessen the impact of traffic and encourage the diversity of uses,” Gurley said recently.

At the same time, the Preservation Society is concerned about the provision that keeps the door open for bigger hotels in the expanded room-cap zone.

“We believe this has the potential to diminish the impact of the 50-room cap,” Gurley said.

Dan Blumenstock, the past president of the Charleston Area Hospitality Association, said he supports the exception to the 50-room limit, but he takes issue with imposing restrictions on hotel sizes with one broad stroke.

“I get very cautious when any government is trying to impose a one-size-fits-all,” said Blumenstock, who is vice chairman of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and manages Fennell Holdings’ Lowcountry Hotels. “Maybe it should be done on a case-by-case basis.

“We are in the hotel business,” he continued. “We are looking to develop and prosper all at the same time. We can develop good brands, good architecture and be an added amenity to the community. One-size-fits-all doesn’t always do that. They are taking a one-size blanket and trying to impose it.”

The more than 100-member hospitality association has not taken an official stance on the issue, because no one from the group has made a request, Blumenstock said. Unless someone does before City Council considers final approval next month, the organization won’t get involved, he added.

Local real estate developer Robert Clement, who is part of a group that is about to break ground on a 304-room, 10-story dual-branded Hyatt hotel at King and Spring streets, said extending the 50-room limit while also allowing larger, full-service hotels strikes a good balance.

“The success of Charleston is blending and making sure you don’t overbuild any one thing in any one place,” Clement said. “You need to make sure you have the right size in the right market and the right quantity.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.

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