City not considering ban on new hotels Call for moratorium taken off agenda; staff to study issue instead, make report to council

Charleston City Council Tuesday pulled from its agenda a proposal to put in place a moratorium on new hotels on much of the peninsula.

When he was campaigning, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg proposed a temporary ban on new downtown hotels.

But Charleston City Council on Tuesday pulled the matter from its agenda before even considering it.

Instead, it unanimously approved a resolution to have city staffers study issues related to downtown hotels for the next 90 days, and then make a report to council. When the study is complete, they may make recommendations to make changes to some city ordinances.

The study will include a look at occupancy rates and a room-cost analysis, Councilman Dean Riegel said.

He was opposed to the moratorium, he said. “It sends the message that Charleston is closed for business.”

Tecklenburg said he proposed the moratorium because the rate at which new hotels are opening on the peninsula simply isn’t sustainable. For instance, he said, a few weeks ago, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved four hotels at one meeting. “So it occurred to me it was time for the discussion,” he said.

The response from City Council members and business people to a moratorium until early next year wasn’t good, Tecklenburg said. The moratorium is no longer an option, he said. “But I certainly got everyone’s attention.”

Had the vote on the hotel moratorium taken place, it would have been one of Tecklenburg’s first high-profile votes.

Former Mayor Joe Riley rarely lost that kind of vote during his 40 years leading the city. Several council members have said Riley talked to members before a big vote, to find out where they stood on a particular matter. And if the majority of them weren’t inclined to vote his way, he made sure the item wasn’t on the agenda.

Tecklenburg said he hopes the city doesn’t receive too many applications for new downtown hotels in the next few months. If the city receives applications, he said, it won’t be inclined to grant variances, which are exceptions to the city’s zoning rules. “If anyone comes forward, they will have to dot their “i”s and cross their “t”s.”

He also said he understood that council had “moratorium fatigue,” referring to a 2014 moratorium on new establishments in the city’s entertainment district that serve alcohol and a 2015 moratorium on “gathering place” zoning.

The decision to conduct a hotel study comes in the wake of a burst of new downtown hotels either built or on the drawing board.

The city’s proposal said 4,826 new hotel rooms have been built or are under construction — and 11 more hotels, with 763 more rooms, already have the necessary zoning approval.

None of those would be affected, only brand-new projects.

During the public-comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, several people said they supported the study, including representatives from the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and other groups.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.