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Newly approved rules should make it more difficult to build big hotels in Charleston

St Matthews and Bennett.jpg (copy)

Hotel Bennett, a luxury lodging on Marion Square, is the newest hotel to have opened on the peninsula. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

After months of review, revisions and votes, Charleston  adopted new rules this week designed to make it more difficult for developers to build large hotels on the peninsula. 

Charleston City Council unanimously and without discussion gave final approval to the ordinance Tuesday. 

Earlier iterations of the rules have been in effect even before the vote. Under the city's "pending ordinance" doctrine, applications for hotels submitted after the ordinance was first reviewed in May had to meet the new requirements. 

The final version includes updated rules, such as:

  • Restrictions protecting existing residences, offices and retail spaces;
  • Minimum and maximum room counts, set at 10 and 250, respectively;
  • Updated requirements for hotel meeting spaces;
  • A new hotel development fee that will help pay for affordable housing. 

The rules set a cap for future full-service lodgings, which can have up to 250 rooms if they meet certain requirements, such as having conference and dining amenities. Only four more will be approved, council decided. Right now, Charleston has two existing full-service lodgings - Belmond Charleston Place and the Francis Marion Hotel — with two more in the pipeline.

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The new version also gives the city zoning board more discretion when reviewing hotel applications. 

A task force, which included Mayor John Tecklenburg, members of council and representatives from neighborhood associations, preservation groups and the visitor industry, had been working on the ordinance since early May. Along the way, City Council made its own changes, and the Planning Commission also weighed in. 

Attempts to adopt stricter rules for new hotels had been discussed well before that — Tecklenburg said during his mayoral campaign in 2015 that he'd rein in the industry's development activity downtown — but the process kicked into higher gear after some high-profile projects were approved earlier this year. They included plans for a 252-room lodging on a Meeting Street site that was originally to be used by the Charleston School of Law. 

The task force also proposed stricter rules for rooftop bars and restaurants, such as prohibitions on flashing lights and amplified sound. Council has sent the first draft back to the task force for further review.

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.

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