Oh sure, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a shorter, fatter hotel tonight than was originally presented three weeks ago. That’s the big news. But judging by the number of spectators still clumped into hallway discussion groups afterward, the decisions didn’t sit well. Out of the 11 speakers heard tonight, former councilman and planning commission member Jeff Underwood was the only one singing praises, not of the hotel, but of the personal character and business integrity of majority owner Mike Mouron. (Mr. Mouron, who presented the case last month but was proxied tonight by investor Scotty Stanford, had taken offense when asked for proof of the Hilton franchise by commissioner Mark Woods. Mr. Woods was also absent tonight.)
Mr. Stanford’s presentation was brief and answered four questions raised on July 11: 1) The hotel had been reduced in height by 20 feet, or two stories, while guest rooms increased by two, to 129; 2) Owners had purchased a remote property to provide an additional 41 parking spaces; 3) The plan re-aligned the sanitary sewer so as to avoid an easement or construction inconvenience to a business neighbor; and 4) Owners produced a letter from Hilton showing its intent to make the hotel a Curio franchise.
However, the gist of residents’ concerns tonight had progressed to bigger concerns than parking spaces and the primary purpose of the commission–Planning and how little there seemed to be of it considering the size of the project. For details on the case, speaker concerns and answers, read below.
Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Britt Thames, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, John Krontiras, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Absent: Brady Wilson and Mark Woods.
Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 34
*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.
Carried over a subdivision redevelopment that’s been simmering atop Shades Mountain since February. This is the sixth carry-over for this project to renew and modify development of a 7-year-old gated subdivision on Shades Mountain that was abandoned by a previous developer after selling two lots. Much of the delay, according to Ms. McGrath, is a conflict between the developer and the two homeowners over ownership of the access road. Click here for the original case, and a later followup.
Voted to recommend a final development plan and rezoning for a 5-story downtown hotel after developers answered concerns about parking and building height to the commission’s satisfaction: Speaking on behalf of the project was investor Scotty Stanford, saying majority owner Mike Mouron (a Mt. Brook planning commission member who spoke last month) was on a wedding anniversary vacation with his wife. As background, the case encompasses 2713, 2725, 2727, 2739 and 2714 18th Street South and 2728 Mamie L. Foster on a prominent corner in downtown Homewood, now owned by an LLC called Homewood Place. As presented last month, the hotel would be managed by Wilson Management Co. of Memphis and fly under Hilton’s “Curio” banner, a full-service hotel encompassing the city block bounded by 18th Street and 28th Avenue, with seven stories (802 feet) and 127 guest rooms fronted by a two-story retail/restaurant area. The applicants requested consolidating zoning of the parcels from two commercial zones to a single MXD (mixed use) zone for a hotel and ground-level retail development.
To proceed to final council approval, the project required commission approval of the development plan as well, which it rejected unanimously on July 11. Mr. Mouron had failed to make a case for waiving 80 parking places under the code, suggesting he had been misled by the staff about the exact parking requirements. The height at 7 stories, was also too much for the commission, despite a comparison of elevations above sea level that put the Curio second from bottom of downtown buildings, just above the Aloft. Tonight’s revised plan reads “5 stories,” and knocks about 20 feet off the building height. And even then, it is taller than SoHo, the apartments, or Aloft.
Objections and other concerns:
- SoHo and Broadway Parc developer Bubba Smith wanted to know more about the final appearance from different angles, effect on SoHo residents’ views, use of quality exterior materials, and the visual effect of a shorter, wider building on a key focal point in downtown. He said the commission should demand assurances on the futurity of parking arrangements if contracted or leased. “The intersection of 18th and 28th is a future focal point. This design walls it off,” he said. “This is not the vision I have wanted for that street.”
- Ken Shaia, an 18th Street business owner, echoed the importance of the building’s appearance at that intersection. He asked for a 3-dimensional model to help people visualize the building and said the rendering didn’t fit with the character of surrounding buildings. “The Bohemian was more slow planned,” he said. “I’d like to see something that looks like the city.”
- A Rosedale resident who has been vocal about that neighborhood’s redevelopment said there should be more information available about the project. He seemed concerned about gentrification, and said he wanted to see it benefit Rosedale, with a Rosedale business in a storefront and residents finding jobs at the hotel.
- A real estate agent living on SoHo’s fourth floor north said residents’ views would be affected and wanted a plan that showed residents what to expect.
- Scott Dean, a resident and 18th Street business owner, asked more detail about onsite versus offsite lots and how they would be used.
- A resident pushing for more downtown green spaces asked how the hotel plan worked with the master plan the city had paid “$200,000 for a year ago.” She said the hotel had little to offer in landscaping and downtown already “skewed hot and hard” with concrete surfaces. “This can be a transformation in a good way, or a bad way,” she said. “Look at Regions. Would we do this now?”
- The business owner next door wanted assurances–received–that his 10-foot alleyway wouldn’t be reduced.
- Two Hollywood resident asked the commission to reject the project until there was more and better planning, especially for sidewalks and more trees.
Limits to commission requirements – Mr. Higginbotham asked Ms. McGrath to list the requirements for a development plan, beyond which the commission could require nothing further of an applicant to get a recommendation. That included a dozen provisions ranging from signage, to landscaping, drainage, parking, lighting, contour maps, and so on. Ms. McGrath said the plan contained those elements to her satisfaction. Mr. Higginbotham, saying the city attorney warned against basing commission decisions outside that list, invited Mr. Stanford to proffer a 3-dimensional model, etc., if he wanted. Mr. Stanford responded that the materials would be glass, masonry, brick and synthetic stucco. He wanted to continue working with the community he said, stopping short of proffering any further studies requested.
A chaos of overlapping planning projects – As for the status of the downtown master plan, Ms. McGrath said is had not been initiated and she could not predict what it would contain. An initial meeting of stakeholders has not been held. However, Mr. Thames said because of the hotel, the parking component had been fast-tracked and the Regional Planning Commission determined parking capacity would be increased by enforcing time limits (set to 3 hours). Ms. McGrath said the street scaping project planned on 18th Street had been delayed pending the hotel’s plans. (The hotel’s landscaping plans, meanwhile, are contingent on the 18th Street improvement project.) Mr. Krontiras was concerned about future density downtown and the need for more traffic studies. But Mr. Cobb said a traffic study would be premature because of plans possibly to narrow 18th Street.
Final hotel details
- Landscaping will be “coordinated with city’s 18th Street improvements and hotel/retail green space;
- Two 50-square-foot hotel signs will be mounted on the ground floor facing both 18th Street and 28th Avenue.
- Total parking 211 spaces (including 5 handicap accessible) – 134 onsite, 16 on 18th Avenue, 41 on remote lot on 27th Avenue South, 20 cross-parking agreement
- 102,461 square feet total, hotel, 96,461 about 96%; restaurant/bar = 6,000 sf 4%
A vote was called on the development plan and the rezoning separately. Each passed unanimously with Mr. Higginbotham abstaining because of a previous relationship with the applicant.
Approved changes to a development plan to allow the Lakeshore Foundation to add a gym and walking trail to improve campus walkability: The plan to amend the Lakeshore Foundation development plan with a developed “treetop” walking trail, office and storage space at 4000 Ridgeway Drive, passed with no objections and few questions from the commission. Applicant Walter Schoel Engineering; Owner Andrew Phillips.
Added a minimum lot area for NPD zoning, which had been dropped in error last year: The minimum house size was inadvertently dropped from the zoning book during an amendment process last year for housing height and other changes. Tonight the Planning Commission amended the ordinance to include an 800-square-foot minimum house size for lots up to 49 feet across. The other minimums, by lot wide are: 1,200 square feet for lots 50-55 feet wide; 1,400 sf for lots 56-65 feet; 1,600 sf for lots 66-75 feet; and 1,800 sf for lots 76 feet across and wider. Residence maximums are 50% of the lot area.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.