A new Charleston hotel project with five-star aspirations secured a key city approval this week.
A zoning board OK'd plans for the proposed 115-unit lodging, which would replace a parking lot across from the historic City Market.
Thanks to a unique agreement with the adjacent neighborhood association, many of the details — including building heights, the addition of a public amenity space and plans to mitigate traffic — already have some community support.
When members of the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association first caught wind that developers were looking to build a large hotel on the lot bordered by Market, Anson, Pinckney and Church streets, they had immediate concern, said John Marsland, the group's president.
The developers have owned the lot since 2013, when First Baptist Church sold the prime property for $15 million. Somera Capital Management, which has headquarters in Santa Barbara and Washington, D.C., and Geyer Morris from Atlanta are collaborating on the project.
Their first plan for the hotel was larger, about 150 rooms with some additional residential condominiums.
But after more than a year of negotiation, the neighborhood group and the developers reached a detailed private party agreement which brought down the number of units and addressed everything from heights to parking to whether or not the property will have a rooftop bar. It won't.
"They've been fair. They've been tough," Charleston attorney Capers Barr said of the negotiations at Tuesday's review with the Board of Zoning Appeals. Barr represents the developers, who he said had participated in "extensive community outreach" before seeking the panel's approval.
Several rezoning requests had to be approved for the project to have reached that point. The property was originally two separate parcels, each zoned for 50-room hotels. Instead, the developer asked to build one hotel of up to 150 rooms. That also required the removal of a right-of-way that ran between the parcels.
Those requests were already approved by the Planning Commission and City Council last year.
Though its new zoning allows for 150 rooms, the agreement with Historic Ansonborough specifies that no more than 115 units, including both traditional guest rooms and condominiums that can be rented, can be built.
The developer has also agreed to build a public arcade and courtyard between Anson and Church streets, around the same location where the right-of-way had been.
The maximum height the hotel can reach is five stories, though more of the property is limited to four. The condominiums, which will be built as a row of Charleston single house structures along Pinckney Street, will go up to three stories.
Traffic coming to and from the property will primarily be on Hayne Street, and onsite parking will be provided. With 164 underground spaces below the hotel, it should fulfill the needs of both guests and employees, Barr said.
The agreement does not entitle the developer to any approvals but ensures that, if honored, Historic Ansonborough will not oppose it. That applies to the organization, Marsland said, but individual residents could still choose to speak out at a public meeting if they have concerns.
No neighborhood residents spoke to the project on Tuesday. Marsland spoke briefly in favor. He said the "vast majority" of the neighborhood's concerns had been addressed in their agreement.
Marsland said he also consulted with the Preservation Society, the Historic Charleston Foundation and the French Quarter Neighborhood Association when negotiating the plan, but Historic Ansonborough is the only group that's a party in the private agreement.
Representatives from both the Preservation Society and Historic Charleston spoke in opposition to the project at Tuesday's meeting. Both acknowledged the effort the developer has made to work with the community, but argued that the project will contribute to an overly dense concentration of hotels in that part of the peninsula.
As one of Charleston's top tourist hubs, the blocks surrounding the City Market are home to many of the city's prominent lodgings, including Belmond Charleston Place, the Spectator Hotel and the French Quarter Inn.
Several other hotel projects nearby are proposed or underway, including a lodging at a former sushi restaurant which has been moving through the design review process, and two adjacent 50-room properties on Market and Anson streets that were recently granted one-year extensions.