The city of Charleston's Planning Commission dealt a critical blow Thursday to Mayor John Tecklenburg's latest plan to slow the growth of hotels on the peninsula.
After receiving almost two hours of input from property owners, residents and Tecklenburg himself, the commissioners voted 5-2 against a proposal to remove 86 properties such as parks, offices and apartment buildings from the accommodations overlay zone.
The commissioners' main concern with the ordinance was that their feeling that properties had been unfairly selected to be removed from the zone, while other neighboring properties remained in it.
"Somebody could be shown favoritism by not being pulled out of this, and I wouldn't be the wiser of it," said chairman William Gordon Geer. "That bothers me."
Charleston City Council initially approved the ordinance in February, but it had to be reviewed by the commission before council could consider it for final approval.
The commission's vote Thursday was only a recommendation, but since it voted no, City Council will have to approve the plan by a super-majority, or 75 percent, for it to take effect.
And several City Council members said Thursday it's unlikely 10 members will vote to reverse the commission's decision.
"It'd be tough to get a super majority," said Councilman Gary White Thursday afternoon, adding he thinks most council members also would have concerns about how properties were selected to be removed from the hotel zone.
The proposal was Tecklenburg's third attempt since taking office last year to rein in hotel developments, which have been sprouting up in the peninsular city in recent years. City Council rejected a suggested moratorium on hotel developments last summer, then shot down a different plan months later that was also designed to keep certain uses from being replaced by hotels.
The mayor arrived at the commission meeting about an hour into the public hearing to plead with the commission to support the changes.
"My fear is that every property, in the long run, that is entitled to become a hotel, will become a hotel," he said.
Several residents and representatives from historic preservation groups agreed.
Tish Lynn, who lives on Queen Street, said there are already 13 hotels in the immediate vicinity of her home.
"The density of the hotels just in that historic district is such a threat to the residential quality of life," she said.
At the start of the meeting, City Planner Jacob Lindsey gave a presentation about the need to protect certain properties from becoming hotels. He said at least 1,000 hotel rooms are in the development pipeline on the peninsula.
"I really think this city could be at a tipping point, and you all need to think long and hard about whether you want the uses in this city to be diverse," he said.
However, many affected property owners said they wanted to keep the option of being able to turn their property into a hotel at some point in the future. Many also made the case that the city could not justify removing them from the overlay zone instead of others.
James Wilson, an attorney representing Warren Place Apartments at 431 King St., called the city's approach to zoning "improper." Most commissioners agreed, even though they also said they understood the need to manage the growth of hotels.
"We know it's a problem, we just don't think this is the answer," said commissioner Charles Karesh.