A new full-service hotel is coming to Meeting Street. And according to the zoning board which voted to approve the project, there was nothing in the city's code to stop it.
The 252-room hotel, which is set to be one of the largest on the peninsula, received unanimous approval from Charleston's Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday, but, for some members, the vote wasn't made easily.
"I'm looking for a way to turn it down, and I don't find it," chairman Leonard Krawcheck said.
Zoning administrator Lee Batchelder said the hotel plan checked all the necessary boxes for city staff to recommend approval.
It meets the parking requirements for guests and employees, and the floor plan includes a ballroom and a restaurant, which are required to build a hotel that exceeds 50 rooms on that section of the peninsula.
The property, which is at Meeting and Woolfe streets, is still under the ownership of the Charleston School of Law, with a sale pending.
The city sold the lot to the for-profit school for $875,000 in 2005, about a 25 percent discount from what the city had paid for the land. Originally, if the lot wasn’t developed, the profit from a sale would go to the city.
But that agreement was rewritten so that the school would receive three quarters of the profits. The lot is listed for $12.5 million.
The site is one that, under a recent proposal from Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg to curb downtown hotel development, would not have been allowed had it won approval.
Katherine Saunders Pemberton, the manager of research and education at the Historic Charleston Foundation, submitted a letter of concern to the city opposing the proposed hotel.
Representatives from the Preservation Society also attended the meeting in opposition, citing concerns about excessive hotel development.
The proposed site is across from a Holiday Inn, which also neighbors a Homewood Suites. Around the corner and up Spring Street is the dual-flagged Hyatt House and Hyatt Place Hotel on upper King Street.
Pemberton asked the board to deny the request, writing that the hotel was not contributing to the "diverse mixed-use community" that the city's ordinance describes in its outline for these decisions.
That phrase — "diverse mixed-use community" — became central to the board's discussion.
How, Krawcheck asked, would this hotel contribute?
Charleston attorney Capers Barr, who represented the applicant, OMS Charleston LLC, argued that the use of the word "community" rather than "neighborhood" meant it referred to Charleston as a whole, not the immediate area.
Therefore, he said, its proximity to other hotels wouldn't disqualify it.
Ross Appel, a zoning board member, also noted that the project's contribution to a "diverse mixed-use community" is something that, according to the ordinance, should be "considered" in these decisions. It's not in the criteria.
Things like traffic impacts and square footage — all of which city staff found met requirements — are.
Board member Margaret Smith said she wished there was language in the ordinance that asked the board to look at the number of hotels, either in the surrounding area or the city overall, when voting on these applications.
In addition to the new hotel at Meeting and Woolfe, several others are slated for lots farther up the peninsula.
Charleston-based Montford Group has plans to build three hotels on Meeting Street, including the Grace Hotel at 510 Meeting St. and an unnamed lodging at 547 Meeting St., where a one-story warehouse stands now.
Additionally, the group received approval to add a vacant triangular lot farther up Meeting Street to the accommodations overlay.
A nine-story dual-branded Aloft and Element Hotel is also approved for 600 Meeting. That is part of a mixed-use project that includes a parking garage and office, retail and dining space.
"I feel some frustration," Krawcheck said before the board voted Tuesday night. "I don't think it's good for the city."
But based on the language in the existing ordinance, he said, rejecting the hotel proposal wouldn't be justified.
Similar frustrations were expressed by the board last July, when the proposal for a 250-room hotel at the Medical University of South Carolina's Harborview Office Tower came before them. That proposal was also approved.