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Final vote for new Charleston hotel development rules deferred a second time

State Ports Authority new hotel01.JPG (copy) (copy)

A new hotel will be built at the site of the former State Ports Authority offices near Joe Riley Waterfront Park. Future hotel developments in Charleston will have to meet new requirements, which are close to being adopted by City Council. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

New rules for hotel development in Charleston were one approval away from being adopted Tuesday, but City Council pushed the last vote forward for two more weeks. 

Council unanimously voted to give second reading to the rules, which came from a special hotel task force, earlier this month.

They could have given final approval the same evening, but a vote to defer passed after several council members said they wanted to see a "clean copy" of the ordinance before giving a final OK since several changes and additions were made during the meeting.  

But when the ordinance came before council at its session this week, another change was proposed, prompting some council members to ask for a second deferral. 

Though the rules, which aim to make it more difficult for large hotels to be built in downtown Charleston, aren't officially adopted yet, any developer that brings a new hotel project to the city will have to follow them. 

When a first reading of the rules was approved back in May, a "pending ordinance doctrine" took effect, meaning all new applications submitted after that point had to honor the ordinance council was reviewing. 

Council member Bill Moody raised concerns Tuesday about the meeting space requirements for large hotels. As the ordinance was written, all hotels with more than 150 rooms had to have at least 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

For hotels with fewer than 150 rooms, the ratio of meeting space required is 400 square feet per 10 guest rooms, meaning that crossing the 150-room threshold meant a jump in the required amount of meeting space from 6,000 to 20,000 square feet.

That seemed to be too wide of a gap, Moody said.

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City planning director Jacob Lindsey proposed a change that would create a more incremental increase in meeting space requirements for large hotels. The majority of council voted to approve that change, but, since the rules were up for third reading, any edits had to be unanimous.

“I hate to delay this, but we’ve got to do this right,” said council member Peter Shahid. “My concern is unintended consequences.”

Mayor John Tecklenburg, who has been talking about reining in hotel development since his 2015 mayoral campaign, urged council to give final approval to the ordinance Tuesday and send the rules back to the hotel task force if they wanted to consider other changes. 

“I think we should vote this through. Let’s put this to bed,” said council member Mike Seekings, who served on the hotel task force and is running for mayor. “We’ve been working on this for a long time.”

Council member Carol Jackson also advocated for giving the rules final approval Tuesday, saying she felt "very comfortable with it." 

But other members cited the pending ordinance doctrine, arguing that a two-week delay wouldn't make much of a difference since developers already had to follow the new rules. 

The hotel task force was formed in early May and brought a first draft of the changes to council a few weeks after that. The group combined members of council and representatives from the tourism industry, neighborhood groups and preservation organizations. 

The new rules aim to protect other uses downtown, like office space and retail, and establish new parameters for room counts and meeting space. Language has also been changed to give more agency to the zoning board which reviews hotel applications. 

The ordinance will be heard again at council's Oct. 8 meeting. 

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 aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter and co-hosts the weekly podcast Understand SC.

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