Big hotel plan = large concern

The State Ports Authority's board of directors unanimously authorized Jim Newsome, the maritime agency’s president and CEO, to negotiate a contract to sell the office space at 176 Concord St. and the adjacent Fleet Landing restaurant Wednesday April 20, 2016. Grace Beahm/Staff

Charleston’s hotel boom has alarmed many residents who believe the city cannot accommodate many more visitors.

But the concern level for a hotel planned for the waterfront site of the S.C. State Ports Authority office building on Concorde Street is beginning to raise that alarm to a whole new level.

The 1.4-acre property, which offers an extraordinary, unimpeded view of the harbor, is expected to fetch a jaw-dropping amount. Most observers believe that it will be purchased by a high-end hotelier that can afford the price tag and build a hotel that will make it worth the cost.

So it is understandable that Charleston residents are eager to find out what is planned and offer their input on its height, design and capacity. Indeed, the city has come under fire by preservation and environmental groups that say they are being ignored.

Jack O’Toole, city spokesman, says there will be a number of opportunities for public input after the property is purchased and the new owner seeks permission from the city to make changes to it. But the city has no standing in the actual sale of the property.

If the city could have a say in the plans, surely Mayor John Tecklenburg would, and should, be involved.

He emphasized livability issues during his victorious campaign last year. And he, too, has expressed concerns about the proliferation of hotel rooms on the peninsula, and even proposed a moratorium on new hotel applications. That idea met with strong objection, and he withdrew it.

Indeed, Mr. Tecklenburg warned in one white paper that the city would not support a hotel with more than 150 rooms. He later issued a white paper clarifying that the site’s zoning allows for a hotel with up to 225 rooms.

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Tecklenburg shouldn’t use any leverage he has to ensure the project is beneficial to the city, including securing an easement on a stretch of the property’s waterfront to extend a path along the peninsula’s shoreline.

Providing public access to the water has been a worthy objective of the city for years. This project should not foul that effort.

And when the city approval process begins, the Concorde Street project will need to go before the usual bodies, including the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Board of Architectural Review and Charleston City Council, where the public often weighs in.

The parcel zoning allows for a hotel with up to 225 rooms, but almost all projects of that scale require some adjustments, which the city can approve or disapprove. Case in point: the Sergeant Jasper site.

Other developers have also run into roadblocks with the BAR, which determines whether a project’s height, scale and mass are right for the site.

So the public should not assume that the new owner will have license to do whatever he pleases.

The SPA property offers a rare opportunity for a waterfront hotel on the Charleston peninsula.

City officials and residents should work together to ensure that any hotel built there is worthy of the site — and respectful of the city’s livability.