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City Council, May 28

Still a way to go on restraining hotel development
Concerns about police leniency
Marc Knapp

The much-discussed amendment to the Accommodation Overlay was given first reading last night. As many Council members and others said, it was a good first step. We expect that the amendment will ultimately have second and final readings, but between now and then, there will be some changes. Perhaps they will not be major, but the proposed ordinance needs considerable refining and clarification.

We acknowledge that Council, the preservation societies, and the majority of the City’s residents want to curtail the growth of hotel numbers in the City. The rapid growth is seen to threaten the livability and historic ambience of the City. We think the concern is justified and we hope the final ordinance will fulfill the hopes of its proponents. But we forecast legal issues surrounding some of the vagueness in the amendments and the tussle on the Board of Zoning Appeals on interpretations. Council member Griffin had similar concerns and thought, but did not propose, that a 2- year moratorium may be a better alternative.

The Historic Charleston Foundation recognized that more work need to be done but nevertheless applauded the amendments noting the main features as follows;

  • Stricter regulations discouraging the removal of existing residential units and prohibiting the displacement of office uses
  • Stronger language to prevent the over-concentration of hotels in any one area, with added emphasis on land use diversity
  • Ensuring that all hotels include meeting space and amenities for the general public, including retail, restaurants, spas, etc.
  • The prohibition of any additional rooftop bars/restaurants
  • The addition of an “in lieu” fee for affordable housing of $3.40 per square foot
  • Stronger requirements for the addition of drop-off/pick-up space to minimize traffic impacts
The amended ordinance will go back to staff and the Hotel Task Force for further consideration and then to Council and the Planning Commission.

To see the Ordinance as placed before Council last night, press Download file.
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It was interesting and discouraging to hear the lament of a fellow citizen in Citizens Participation. He witnessed a major accident when a car collided with a bicycle taxi. The driver of the car did not stop after the accident and only did so when the citizen in his own car stopped her progress. The driver of the vehicle that caused the accident was subsequently taken into custody and charged with driving under the influence – the alcohol level was near 3 times the proscribed legal limit.

The question asked by the citizen was why was the driver was fined only a nominal amount and had to serve 24 hours of community service? She was driving recklessly, very intoxicated, badly injured an individual, and had no intention of stopping after the accident. How much worse could it be?

What he didn’t say was what on earth if going on in the City’s police force? He didn’t have to for Council members expressed concern and the Mayor indicated a follow up. Council member Seekings suggested that such an incident justified the creation of Judicial Committee out of Council members. There were a number of nodding heads.

Last month, I made a similar complaint before Council where a woman involved in a major DUI incident received very minor punishment. Chief Luther Reynolds spoke to me after the meeting about the incident. He was concerned and promised a follow up. I never heard back from him. I also spoke to one officer who stated that from the body camera footage, it seemed that the driver should have been charged. Then the matter was turned over to the Proferssional Standards Department at which time the officer told me there was no indication of DUI. I then called Chief Reynolds and asked him to call me. I still have not received any follow up call from anyone on the Command Staff.

In my opinion, the Mayor owes Council and citizens an explanation of such leniency by our police force.
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We won’t pretend we understand why much of the Peninsula above Calhoun Street was placed within a Federal Opportunity Zone and why the City had to impose its own regulations. Opportunity Zones we thought were created to catalyze the development of distressed areas. Below Calhoun may have been distressed 20 or 30 years ago, and indeed some parts may still look so. But it surely in no need of help. Land prices have soared and there is no lack of redevelopment activity.

Council member White obviously thought similarly noting that Halls Chop House, one of the City’s most expensive restaurants was right in the center of the Opportunity zones. He also questioned some of the language in the City proposed ordinance allowing for a fee in lieu of creating Workforce Housing and which in turn allowed developers to build apartment complexes houses regardless of zoning. This was not good.
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The Kerr Tract PUD finally got approval. One way or other, it has been before Council for some time. The 70-acre tract lies along Maybank Highway, close to the junction with River Road. Some 700 residential and commercial units are planned but no commercial development is likely for 3 years. The development has been opposed or feared by many on Johns Island because of the likely worsening of traffic congestion. After all, the Maybank Highway-River Road intersection is already very busy.

There are two factors that propelled approval. The first is if the Kerr Tract were developed under existing zoning regulations far more units could be constructed compared with that under the Planned Unit Development. The second is that the southern tine of the Pitchfork road arrangement is on the Tract and its completion is necessary to alleviate traffic congestion on the island.

There were some issues as to the liability of City if it took “ownership” of the “pitchfork tine” and had to build the road. What would happen if the County refused to pay or contribute to the road’s construction? Did the City have the funds for construction? It seems that Council agreed that ownership of the “pitch fork tine” was the first step in securing funding from the County and although funding was not certain, it was likely.

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