West Homewood District motel proposal, July 30, 2015

A sparse crowd.

Considering the emotional lead-up, a sparse crowd attended today’s review of a proposed new hotel in West Homewood. Perhaps it was the 3 p.m. meeting time and short notice.

A new West Homewood zoning district intended to encourage retail, modernize and improve building forms was tested for the first time today from an unlikely source–a proposed redevelopment of a 1970s EconoLodge motel, which residents think is misplaced in a neighborhood poised for renewal. A first round review of the proposal scored two denials of code exemptions requested by motel owner Sanjay Patel. An extended review over the next 14 days could conclude that the entire Oxmoor Road property must be brought under the new code–a costly requirement that could end Mr. Patel’s quest to build a new hotel on the site.

CDRC members and their offices: Mayor Scott McBrayer, Fred Hawkins, Ward 2 council member, James Ponseti, planning commission member and elected committee chairman, Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning staff, and Nickolas Hill, Fire Marshal.

Audience attendance: 22

The first redevelopment under the new West Homewood Village District regulations could be another hotel on the currently EconoLodge property. This sketch is taken from the application to be reviewed by a district committee on July 30.

The first redevelopment under the new West Homewood Village District regulations could be another hotel on the currently EconoLodge property. This sketch is taken from the application under review today.

A 2 1/2 hour review of a proposed hotel and exemptions to a new West Homewood District building code ended in defeat for EconoLodge owner Sanjay Patel, at least temporarily. The review panel rejected two code exemptions Mr. Patel asked for, to reduce first-floor window glass and narrow the width of building off-sets or “jogs” along the front from 50 feet to 20 feet. It also granted a 14-day extension of the review period to examine whether the substantial redevelopment on part of the property triggers a rule that would subject the entire motel property to the new building code.

Those decisions will be decided in a future meeting at the end of the extension period.

Background

Sanjay Patel presented his case to the neighborhood for a new 4-story extended stay hotel at the site of the EconoLodge. He's seen here with engineer, hotel developer, and resident Nic Seaborn, acting as moderator.

Sanjay Patel presented his case to the neighborhood for a new 4-story extended stay hotel at the site of the EconoLodge. He’s seen here with engineer, hotel developer, and resident Nic Seaborn, acting as moderator.

Mr. Patel purchased the motel property at 195 Oxmoor Road in 2012 as the city was poised to create a new district where a village form would be imposed on new developments. His original proposal — to build a four-story extended stay hotel on part of the property and a road encircling the property between Scott and Cobb streets– drew heated opposition at a public forum earlier this spring. This time, Mr. Patel returned with a formal application that stayed within the new district’s 3-floor limit and met much of the district’s “village” look and scale.

The road and other plans for the property will be aired in later “phases,” he has said.

The review

The EconoLodge on Oxmoor and Cobb Street has proposed redeveloping a portion of the property as a four-story extended-stay hotel, requiring several variances under the new West Homewood District village form. Revelations about the plan, and its extent, have created a furor in the surrounding neighborhood.

Mr. Patel’s first proposal is shown in this rough overlay that started a firestorm of protest when it came to light earlier this year. The proposal shows a road connecting Scott and Cobb streets, an office building and the outline of other structures and parking areas extending close to houses.

Nearly two hours into this afternoon’s meeting, the committee asked if the redevelopment was extensive enough to invoke a so-called 50 percent rule, where a property grandfathered under an old zoning ordinance must be brought up to code if renovations affect more than 50% of the square footage.

According to the committee’s calculations, the present EconoLodge complex is 32,875 square feet. Mr. Patel is proposing to remove two buildings totaling 15,694 square feet, or less than 50% of the area. However, committee members asked whether the 50% rule applied solely to the amount of square footage left intact, or if it should also include the square footage of the new building. Mr. Patel representatives discussed partitioning the property to sidestep the code, a maneuver that might create other legal or business problems, however.

The committee’s vote for a two-week extension allows time to research the 50 percent question. Meanwhile, four residents spoke in the public portion of the meeting before taking a vote on the exemptions.

Public hearing

Three residents said granting the shop window glass exemption would break the spirit of the new code, which encouraged retail and ground-level shops. Mr. Patel’s intent is to put guest rooms on the first floor. Another resident was concerned about the effect of the remaining, old motel on the neighborhood. Mr. Patel said it was his intent eventually to renovate the entire property. He offered to sell the remaining buildings to his city for retail redevelopment once his new hotel is up and running.

Earlier in the review, Mayor McBrayer said he wanted to make sure the city got the first renovation in the new village area executed properly to be a leader for the rest of the 22-parcel district. The final vote for the exemptions was 3-2 against each one separately, with Mayor McBrayer, Mr. Hawkins and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill voting to deny and Mr. Cobb and Mr. Ponseti voting in favor.

A follow-up meeting will be scheduled for two weeks from today.

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