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A task force reviewing hotel rules in Charleston asked city staffers to come up with ways to regulate rooftop bars. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

New rules that will put limits on future hotel development in Charleston are coming to the city for approval after another review from a special task force.

The task force — which includes Mayor John Tecklenburg, several members of City Council and representatives from preservation groups, neighborhood organizations and the tourism industry — discussed the ordinance for more than two hours Tuesday, making changes both to the content and the wording of the rules.

The most significant changes came out of recommendations from the Planning Commission, which reviewed the ordinance last month. 

The proposed rules had prohibited rooftop bars and restaurants at future hotel developments, but the commission suggested that a wholesale ban may be too strict. 

The task force decided Tuesday to remove the rooftop bar ban entirely, on the condition that city staff would bring another ordinance about rooftop bars and restaurants to City Council soon. 

Planning director Jacob Lindsey said city staff had recommended taking that section out and writing a separate ordinance so that any new rules about rooftop bars and restaurants would apply to all businesses, not just hotels.

The task force also decided Tuesday to drop the minimum room count for hotels to 10 from 20. It was argued that allowing smaller lodgings could help preserve historic properties, which are often expensive to maintain. 

"It's a valuable tool that can help some really tricky properties," Preservation Society director and task force member Kristopher King said. 

Commission members had also asked the task force to review a section of the ordinance that limits the number of full-service hotels in Charleston. 

At the time of Planning Commission's session, Lindsey said that city staff didn't have a definitive number of how many full-service lodgings are on the peninsula. An estimate of around nine was used. 

Since then, staff has looked at all the eligible properties and found that just four of them qualify based on dining and meeting amenities as full-service hotels under the new rules.

Two of them — the Francis Marion Hotel and Belmond Charleston Place — are already operating. The two others are approved but not under construction yet: Bennett Hospitality's planned 300-room hotel at 411 Meeting St. and the former Charleston School of Law property that was approved for a 252-room hotel earlier this year. 

The task force decided to cap the number of additional full-service properties at four. Under the new rules, those hotels could have up to 250 rooms each.

On the peninsula, those larger full-service lodgings are restricted to an area bound by King, Meeting, Line and Anne streets. Lindsey said staff has identified about eight different lots in that site that could potentially fit a full-service hotel. 

Other sections of the proposed ordinance, which the task force has been drafting since early May, include:

  • Provisions to limit the displacement of office, retail and residential uses on the peninsula
  • More requirements for hotels to qualify as full-service, including 20,000 square feet of meeting space
  • Changes in language that give more authority to the zoning board which approves hotels
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The ordinance also requires that developers who want to build a hotel pay a fee to the city to help fund affordable housing. The city is justifying that requirement because hotels create many jobs that pay well below the city's median income levels.

According to figures provided to the task force by city staff, the average hospitality worker can afford about $600 a month for housing, but the average rent in peninsular Charleston is about $1,300 a month. 

Mike Shuler of King Street Capital, which has two boutique hotel properties approved on upper King Street, has concerns that "property rights and property values may potentially and inadvertently become sacrificed," in the potential passage of these new rules, according to a letter which he read aloud at Tuesday's meeting. 

Shuler brought copies of the new ordinance for the task force members with suggested changes and comments from himself and business partners. 

Some of the recommendations, like a removal of the rooftop bar ban, had already been addressed by the task force. Others, like a suggested removal of the cap on future full-service properties, were not considered Tuesday. 

Tecklenburg asked task force members to review Shuler's suggestions further after their meeting. If it seems like another meeting is necessary, the group will convene again, Tecklenburg said. 

The task force plans to send their proposal back to council again at its Sept. 10 meeting, where the rules could be given final approval. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.