A proposed city ordinance aimed to bring higher quality hotels to the island will revive conversation about height and density rules on Seawall Boulevard, a sore subject among many island residents.

Galveston City Council on Thursday voted 5-2 to have the planning commission review a draft ordinance that would require hotels on parts of the beach front street to have certain amenities, such as restaurants or hot tubs. Another part of the ordinance would allow the hotels to obtain height and density waivers as an incentive to build on the island.

“There was a recognition that we have some hotels that are being built that are probably not the highest and best use for bringing in folks,” city planning and development Director Tim Tietjens said at a Thursday council workshop.

“The other side of that discussion was when you require certain amenities to be provided in a hotel setting, the recognition there is obviously that these amenities can only be provided if the hotel operators can still make a profit,” Tietjens said. “They’re not going to make a profit if those hotel amenities are in lieu of a certain number of rooms they have to have.”

The ordinance is still far from being approved. The planning commission held two public hearings in a workshop on the issue and heard more than an hour of comments from residents, planning commission officials said.

Eventually, the planning commission asked city council if the ordinance should be a priority. Councilman Frank Maceo, a District 3 representative who wrote the hotel ordinance, said that the planning commission needed the council’s backing before moving forward.

“Planning didn’t know if council was going to be supportive of anything they put forward,” Maceo said.

Two council members voted against sending the ordinance to the planning commission for review.

Councilwoman Amy Bly, District 1, voted against and said in a council workshop Thursday that the ordinance didn’t seem like a good use of the council or the commission’s time.

“We have a lot of hotels already,” Bly said. “We hear about them having a hard time trying to fill hotel rooms.

“It’s kind of counterintuitive.”

Councilman Craig Brown, District 2, said he voted against the referral to the planning commission because of the height and density waiver. Those rules, which passed in 2008, took more than a year to get sorted out and will likely be the most contentious point in Maceo’s ordinance.

“This community spent over a year coming together on that height and density,” Brown said at the workshop. “My district is fairly clear, or at least they have been to me, that they are not in support of going higher on the seawall.”

Current rules prevent high-rises on Seawall Boulevard, or anything higher than eight stories, or 105 feet, said Catherine Gorman, assistant director of the planning and development division.

Some people are willing to build parking garages on Seawall Boulevard but want to be able to make their money back by building something above it, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“It’s important in discussion with the planning commission that there be some discussion, if a seawall property wants to provide ‘x’ number of parking spaces in a garage type structure that you allow some change to allow them to do something,” Maxwell said. “Otherwise they get capped out and they can’t get enough rooms to do what they want to do.”

The benefits, such as more parking on Seawall Boulevard, higher standards for hotels and the possibility of restrooms and showers in the parking garages, outweigh the negatives, Maceo said.

“A lot of the arguments against are very emotional,” Maceo said.

Most council members agreed that some sort of standard for hotels on Seawall Boulevard would be good, however — especially a standard requiring restaurants. Councilwoman Carolyn Sunseri, District 6, mentioned a building boom of hotels near 89th Street with a lack of food nearby.

“We don’t have restaurants on the West End,” Sunseri said. “That is something we need to look at. I think a restaurant component needs to be included somehow because you’ve got so many little hotels right there in that one area but no place for them to go eat.”

If the planning commission strikes the ordinance down, that’s OK, Maceo said. But the “consequences” of a waiver on height and density on the seawall might not be so bad, he said.

“We’re not so much opening floodgates as much as unlocking a door,” Maceo said. “It’s not going to automatically bring high value tourists to Galveston, but it’s going to start changing the image of Galveston.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter at @sam_kett



(7) comments

Steve Fouga

My rule: Anything on Seawall, FM 3005, or downtown has to be "classy." To me that means at least a decent restaurant, a nice swimming pool, a hot tub, a gym with both cardio and weights, as well as, of course, nice rooms and a welcoming lobby.

As for height, as far as I'm concerned they can be tall. I'd feel differently if something blocked a view I cherished, and at the same time lowered my property value. So maybe no height restrictions east of 10th and west of 61st?

Ron Binkley

Galveston has come a long way since the rebuilding after Hurricane Ike. Our beaches are cleaner, the quality of our restaurants has improved significantly and we have added many attractions. One of the few things left to do is to allow high-rise upscale hotels/resorts to be built on the seawall. Galveston needs to be open to all visitors, the budget minded and the higher-end visitors. Bringing in 30 story high-end Marriott or Hyatt is good for tourism and for our tax base. More tax money from visitors is a better quality of life for our residents.

Don Schlessinger

The idea of changing the skyline of those of us living close to the seawall is not something I would look forward to. Take a ride along Adler Circle looking south if you want a great example of a view ruined by high rise buildings. Voting yes or no is NOT something we can leave to the city council and planning commission. EVERY TAXPAYER on the island should have a vote on the subject.

Kelly Naschke

There was NO view in Adler Circle other than your back fence. Or are you like really really really tall where you could see OVER the Seawall and see the water? If Galveston wants to position itself against first class needs first class amenities. It’s time to quit thinking small and start thinking big....thinking big means going UP.

Susan Fennewald

Galveston's tourism industry is doing fine and growing.
It's Galveston's residents and population that are struggling and barely hanging on. They're the ones who need help at this point.
The tourism industry and the residents benefit from each other. The residents are both the employees of the tourism industry and customers of the restaurants and businesses that serve both tourists and residents (but may not have enough business from each alone to survive).
Galveston's residents deserve support from their city council. The lots that are under consideration for taller buildings are just across the street from single story houses. Adler circle is several blocks away from the taller buildings near it, not just across the street.

I'm trying to think of an example, on Galveston, where a 10 story building is across the street from a single family home, but I can't.
Can anyone else think of an example?

Susan Fennewald

The most controversial lots are too small for a high class hotel with all the amenities. It takes room to have a really nice hotel- think of the land around the San Luis, Moody Gardens and even the Galvez. The Tremont is probably the most hemmed in - but it's still big and takes up an entire block, with parking offsite.

The little sites on the Seawall that are the most controversial just do NOT have the space for a first class hotel with all the amenities.

Ron Binkley

Not so true. You can build a tall skinny building on a small lot. Put all of your parking underground. Put the pool on a higher floor with great gulf views. Add an incredible restaurant and patio on the top floor. Think about how they build office and hotels in the big cities like Houston and Austin. They just go higher.

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