Changes that could make it more difficult to build hotels on the Charleston peninsula have moved another step toward adoption.
The Planning Commission voted Wednesday to approve proposed amendments to the city's hotel rules but advised that the task force behind them make some modifications, including a reconsideration of a wholesale ban on rooftop bars at hotels.
The revised ordinance will now go back to the hotel task force — a group of 11 voting members and a few advisory participants formed to fast-track the new accommodations rules — before being brought back to City Council for a final approval.
The task force got the ordinance "through a little of the impasse" that city officials have reached over the last few years of attempts to slow hotel development in downtown Charleston, city planning director Jacob Lindsey said Wednesday.
Lindsey ran through 11 different items in the amended ordinance that differ from the city's existing rules. The intended results from those changes would include:
- More protections for existing office, retail and residential uses downtown;
- Greater power for the Board of Zoning Appeals to reject hotel applications that don't align with city planning;
- Provisions to get more local benefits from hotels, like expanded requirements for "full-service" properties and fees to support affordable housing
Councilmember Mike Seekings, who is also a task force member and a mayoral candidate, urged the five-member commission to move the ordinance forward.
"There is a need for you to act," Seekings said.
Representatives from Historic Charleston Foundation, the Charleston Preservation Society, the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and Lowcountry Local First also addressed the panel. All expressed support for the changes and requested that they be approved.
The task force, which includes Mayor John Tecklenburg and representatives from City Council, preservation groups, neighborhood associations and the tourism industry, was formed with timeliness in mind. The group was given around three weeks to bring changes to City Council after it was assembled in early May.
Later that month, councilmembers unanimously gave the proposed ordinance first reading.
Though the commission did approve the changes, it also included notes for the task force.
Members agreed that the proposed ban on rooftop bars and restaurants at future Charleston hotels should be discussed further.
A couple members said a wholesale ban seemed too strict and suggested that the ability to open a rooftop bar should depend on whether the hotel is in a strictly commercial area or near residences.
As part of its approval, the commission asked the task force to revisit that part of the ordinance.
A limit on how many full-service hotels, which on the peninsula are restricted to the area bound by King, Meeting, Line and Anne streets, was also discussed.
The number of existing full-service hotels in the city isn't known, Linsdey said. City staff will have to pull hotel floor plans to get an exact count, but an estimate of around nine was suggested, including prominent lodgings like Belmond Charleston Place, Hotel Bennett and the planned waterfront hotel on Concord Street near the City Market.
Using that estimate, commission members debated whether the number the task force had chosen — four full-service hotels in addition to those already existing or approved — was appropriate.
While other hotels on the peninsula are capped at 50 rooms, the current rules give full-service hotels an unlimited number, and the new ordinance allows up to 250. An additional four full-service properties could be as many as 1,000 more downtown hotel rooms.
Ultimately, the commission kept the number at four but adjusted the language to specify that the limit would only apply to peninsular Charleston, not other areas of the city, such as West Ashley.