City wants court to reconsider decision to overturn downtown hotel's rooftop bar ban

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston's city attorney issued a statement Tuesday after a circuit court ruling on a controversial rooftop bar at a downtown hotel.

On Friday, a circuit court judge ruled the city's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) incorrectly applied the law when it denied permission for the rooftop bar at the Dewberry Hotel in April.

Charleston City Attorney Frances Cantwell issued the following statement:

"The next procedural step in the case is to ask Judge Nicholson to reconsider his ruling. Depending on the outcome of that motion, the city will then take up the question of appeal."

On April 18, the Board of Zoning Appeals denied, by a vote of 4-to-1, the Meeting Street hotel's request for a change in its usage plan so the hotel could open a rooftop bar.

In 2011, plans were approved for the hotel, but limited the use of the rooftop. Essentially, they were approved to have spa and fitness area and some portions of the roof could be used for patrons, but not all of it. The owner of the hotel asked the BZA to change that.

"We looked at his original plans over, and over, and over and there was never a bar," said Sherry Remillard, a board member for the Wraggborough Homeowner's Association.

Remillard is one of dozens of homeowners who are against the rooftop bar at the hotel.

"It's going to ruin our neighborhood, our quality of life," she said. "Even when he has an outdoor party down on the base, the music is so loud."

Not everyone agrees though.

"I've been here for weddings and things and they turn the music off at 11, so I think that's fair," said Keith Santos, who lives near The Dewberry.

In May lawyers for the hotel filed an appeal against the BZA's decision to denying their request to amend an existing special exception the hotel had been granted.

According to court documents released Friday, The Dewberry underwent extensive renovation between 2014 and 2016 which included design of the eighth floor. Those plans were approved by the City's Board of Architectural Review, and the City's building official approved specific construction plans for the eighth floor and surrounding rooftop terrace.

Documents state it was the use of the interior of the eighth floor enclosed-glass room that was denied by the BZA on April 18.

Lawyers for the hotel claim that room was created for accessory uses of a function room, reading room, pantry, and small bar with limited food and beverage service.

On Friday, Ninth Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson found the zoning board committed errors of law and overturned the board's decision.

"I hope the judge will take a second look and realize [the board] didn't deny his [bar request], he didn't ask [to begin with]!"

Meanwhile others downtown hope the hotel will move forward asking the judge to allow them to operate on the rooftop.

"I think it would be nice," Santos said. "It's a beautiful view from the top of the roof and it shows off the city wonderfully."

Messages to managers with The Dewberry and lawyers representing the hotel in this case were not immediately returned.

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