Hotel owners sue city over plans for rooftop bar

By Lauren Ratcliffe
editorial@scbiznews.com

The owners of the King Charles Inn and neighbors living nearby are suing to stop a proposed four-story hotel with a rooftop bar and terrace, fearing it could set a precedent for the city.

An attorney representing the plaintiffs said most rooftop venues are located nearer to the market or along King Street, and he thinks the proposed location at 249 Meeting St. is too close to residential neighborhoods.

“Any hotel on Meeting Street then could put a bar on top with an open terrace as an accessory use,” said Trenholm Walker, an attorney representing King Charles Associates L.P. and the other plaintiffs. “My clients feel that is a very bad precedent.”

After Charleston’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special exemption to extend the accommodations overlay district to cover the property, four parties, including the company that owns the King Charles Inn, petitioned the circuit court to overturn the decision.

King Charles Associates L.P., King Charles Associates L.P. II and Charles F. and Ann Green Ailstock think the zoning decision could allow future hotels to establish rooftop bars and restaurants without the city requiring a study of impacts to surrounding neighbors and plans for mitigating traffic and parking concerns.

According to court documents, King Charles Associates and others think the Board of Zoning Appeals incorrectly extended the accommodations overlay district by allowing the zoning because the proposal was not just for a hotel.

The property is owned by McAlister-Togant Wentworth Meeting LLC, and will be a hotel under The Kessler Collection, a boutique and luxury hotel brand.

The owners submitted a request for preliminary approval to the Board of Architectural Review on March 27. The BAR deferred a decision on the building after members questioned the proposed building materials for the project. A spokeswoman for the BAR said the ongoing litigation was not mentioned at that March 27 meeting.

Walker said the issue was not whether a hotel should be built, but whether that hotel’s rooftop bar should be allowed to remain open until 2 a.m., when all bars close.

The city’s zoning was allowed because the rooftop bar and restaurant, which is open to the public, was considered an extension of the hotel as opposed to a separate business venture.

“The board (of zoning appeals) imposed some conditions on principally the rooftop bar and restaurant and the applicant had agreed to self-impose some conditions,” he said. “Our contention is that those conditions do not reduce the adverse effect on the residential neighborhood and adjoining properties.”

Day Dantzler, chief administrative officer and vice president of development for The Kessler Collection, said the company took input from the community into consideration when designing the 50-room hotel.

“We’ve conducted multiple conversations with the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association and Ansonborough neighbors and, as a result, adjusted our project design to mitigate any Garden Terrace rooftop noise concerns,” Dantzler said. “Collaboratively, The Kessler Collection and (the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association) reached an agreement regarding rooftop facility use, including operating hours, and the Board of Zoning Appeals incorporated this agreement into its decision. The Kessler Collection will remain proactive in keeping the city of Charleston and our neighbors informed of our plans for the hotel.”

In the zoning board’s approval, The Kessler Collection agreed to close the rooftop bar and restaurant at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights and 11 p.m. on other nights. The group also agreed to construct a 5-foot wall around the terrace to mitigate noise.

Walker said his clients think those conditions do not address parking and traffic concerns.

“This essentially is a different business being operated out of the top of the building, which should have required the necessary parking and traffic study,” Walker said.

The rooftop bar and restaurant would be open to the public, while a proposed coffee shop and wine bar within the hotel would be reserved for patrons.

Representatives for the city were not available to discuss the case, which was filed on March 11.

The project still has to be approved by the BAR because it is located within Charleston’s historic district.

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