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City Council passes 1st reading of revised hotel regulations

Hospitality and Tourism
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Charleston City Council unanimously passed the first reading of a revised accommodations ordinance Tuesday night, one month after a task force was created to study the issue of how to best balance tourism with livability. 

Click for interactive map of hotels

Downtown Charleston had nearly 7,500 hotel rooms as of April 2019, according to city staff. As the city debates whether to amend the its accommodations regulations, the Business Journal has begun mapping every hotel that currently exists and the hotels that have been approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals. This map will continue to be updated as more hotels are approved and built. 

Is this map missing a hotel? Email phoff@scbiznews.com.

The first reading passed after about 30 minutes of discussion, with almost every council member thanking the 11-member task force and commenting on the quality of the proposed ordinance. Most council members, though, had questions they wanted answered and small changes they wanted made before the ordinance is ratified.

“I think this is a really good document that tries to capture a lot of good policy for the city,” said District 12 Councilwoman Carol Jackson.

The ordinance (.pdf) will now go to the Planning Commission before City Council takes it up again to vote on second and third readings. The task force is also expected to meet before City Council gives the ordinance second reading to discuss any other recommendations.

Changes to the accommodations regulations include a limit on “full-service” hotels, a term used for large hotels with conference and meeting space, an on-site restaurant, and other amenities; a ban on new rooftop bars; and a fee-in-lieu imposed on new hotels to help fund affordable housing in Charleston.

The proposed ordinance also includes protections for existing residential, office and retail space downtown to prevent those uses from being displaced off the peninsula.

Mayor John Tecklenburg said the Board of Zoning Appeals may use the new hotel regulations as guidance for its decisions in the coming weeks now that City Council has passed the first reading of the ordinance because of the pending ordinance doctrine. The pending ordinance doctrine gives local governments the authority to refuse a zoning application when the use is not allowed under a then-pending and later-enacted zoning ordinance.

District 7 Councilman Perry Waring asked city staff whether it might be possible to make the new regulations retroactive to revoke some of the hotel special exceptions granted by the Board of Zoning Appeals over the past few months, but assistant corporation counsel Daniel McQueeney said no.

Once a special exception is granted, McQueeney said, the applicant has two years to utilize it and begin construction, though they may apply for a one-year extension. The only ways a special exception may be revoked is if the applicant made a “material representation” to the Board of Zoning Appeals, McQueeney said, or if “a substantial change in conditions” occurs.

“There’s only two circumstances where that applies, and neither of them applies to this situation,” he said.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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