The city Planning Commission approved plans Feb. 8 for the six-story Moxy Hotel at Lake & Emerson.
The project has been a major source of scrutiny for the neighborhood — city staff said they received 215 pages of correspondence that seemed to consist of a pretty even split for and against the project.
The Uptown Association circulated a petition with 445 signatures in support; residents said another petition had 428 signatures in opposition.
Ben Graves of Graves Hospitality said that after many community meetings, they brought down the height from nine stories to six, reduced the massing 20 percent, and repositioned windows so they no longer overlook homes.
The original plan called for extensive brick on the hotel, which was switched to fiber cement following neighborhood feedback. The fiber cement material covers the Lake Street side of the building, while brick is more prevalent on walls facing the south, east and west.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a lower-quality material, but it is a more modern looking material,” Graves said. “…The feedback was all the other development on Lake Street is much more modern, and they wanted something a little more … edgy.”
In recommending rezoning approval, Senior City Planner Kimberly Holien said Lake Street has seen a significant change in character since 2008.
She listed developments like The Walkway at 1320 W. Lake St. (six stories, 92 units), the Cheapo site at 1300 W. Lake St. (seven stories, 125 units), and the Lumen at 1211 Lagoon Ave. (five stories). A vacant site near Calhoun Square is also “suspected to be a high-density mixed-use development,” she said.
The Uptown Small Area Plan, a guiding document the city adopted in 2008 following extensive neighborhood input, calls for no more than four stories on the site.
City staff argued that the impact of a six-story building would be similar to a four-story building. It wouldn’t shadow neighbors to the south, and the tallest portion of the building fronts Lake Street, staff said. Staff said the building would present a similar impact as viewed from the pedestrian scale, properties to the south and along Lake Street.
“That perception of a four-story building versus a six-story building, from those vantage points, there’s not a lot of difference in the impact,” Holien said.
Council Member Lisa Bender voted in favor of the project, and said the city’s policies aim to concentrate growth on commercial corridors.
“There is no commercial corridor in the city that I can think of that is busier than Lake Street,” she said. “…It’s a place where I think the low-scale development that’s there now is not appropriate, it’s under-utilizing the land. … The sort of auto-oriented, 1950s-style, surface parking lot development is not what I think most people want to see in the community, and it’s certainly not what the policy guidance in the Small Area Plan envisions. It envisions dense, mixed-use development.”
Bender noted that she was not supportive of the previous design.
The hotel would lease 35 spaces at the Calhoun Square ramp and would use valet parking to meet the city’s parking requirement.
Commissioner Scott Vreeland said that as the newest member of the Planning Commission, he was looking for clarity on the role of the Small Area Plan.
“My understanding is that it’s not discretionary for me to not look at the Small Area Plan as the basis for my decision,” he said.
In response, the city planning manager referred him back to city staff’s recommendation to approve the hotel. In the recommendation, city staff said the proposed C3A zoning is actually a better fit with the Small Area Plan than the current C2 zoning. Staff said the Plan calls for dense, urban buildings on the site that are better accommodated in a C3A district.
At the public hearing, mono co-founder Michael Hart said one of Uptown’s few drawbacks is the lack of a hotel. He said mono would use an Uptown hotel as a recruiting tool for potential hires to check out the neighborhood.
The Calhoun Area Residents Action Group wrote in opposition to the project. The letter said a hotel would be a fine addition to Uptown, but not at the proposed site and scale.
At the public hearing, several residents said they would prefer to see a hotel stand north of Lake Street.
Resident Clark Olsen said that if conditions have changed since the Small Area Plan’s adoption in 2008, a process should be undertaken to revise it.
“Do not make ad hoc decisions that determine who the winners and losers of this community are,” he said.
Resident Jerome Chateau said he understands his neighbors’ views, but he takes a different angle. The city’s many parking lots are an eyesore, a blight, and an invitation for crime, he said.
“Originally I am from Paris, and each time I come back here I find the urban space rather ugly and inconsistent and not urban enough. I think this is an opportunity to change that,” he said.
The Planning Commission voted 5-3 to approve the rezoning and voted 7-1 to approve the height. The project would not include rooftop decks as a condition of approval.
In voting to approve the plan, Commissioner Sam Rockwell highlighted the transit on Lake.
“This is a perfect location and if we can’t develop in these locations, then we can’t develop anywhere,” he said.