Residence Inn ready to accommodate Trinity Park residents? Once-contentious negotiations seem near an end
A proposed hotel that once bitterly divided one of Durham’s tonier neighborhoods now seems closer to securing support from residents.
On Wednesday evening, the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association board and a number of interested residents learned about a deal that a group of members has worked out with developers of the Residence Inn proposed for 1108 W. Main St. between North Buchanan Boulevard and Watts Street.
While the presentation didn’t put every concern about the project to rest, it did result in a consensus that negotiators have struck an arrangement neighbors can accept.
“This is such a huge credit to you who have negotiated this,” Laura Gutman, who lives about a block north of the hotel site on Watts, said after the deal was presented. “I mean, this is just night and day in what looks like an outcome. It’s just amazing when you think of ... the agony that the neighborhood went through fruitlessly.”
She said that the deal “looks like an outcome” because it remains subject to a yet-to-be-scheduled vote by the neighborhood association board -- not to mention ultimate support from elected officials.
The negotiating process involved some give and take by both sides, with the developer agreeing to some big alterations to its initial plans. But as important as the process has been for this one project, it may have even more significance for future projects.
This result, if it is finalized, will send a signal to other potential developers, said Dan Jewell. He’s a partner in the Coulter Jewell Thomas landscape architecture and planning firm, which dropped out of the Residence Inn project before the negotiations with the neighborhood began.
“There can be a win-win situation” when developers go to work in Trinity Park, Jewell told others at the board meeting. “Because I’ve been involved in those groups where it’s always just ‘no, no, no,’ and it’s going to be a fight to the end... This is a going to be a great precedent.”
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There are seven main provisions to the deal worked out by what is called the McPherson Subcommittee. (Named after the decrepit historic hospital that sites on the site, the group belongs to the neighborhood association’s Urban Planning Committee.)
The provisions go as follows:
* The proposed development will conform to the submitted site plan and to the other provisions, which will be incorporated into the site plan.
* Parts of the McPherson Hospital that are to remain visible “shall be repaired where feasible or replaced in kind where unrepairable to match the original architectural details of the building.”
* No stucco shall be used on the exterior of the building. The hotel shall be covered in brick facing that is compatible with the McPherson Hospital and with historic Durham architecture.
* The hotel shall secure 100 parking spaces, whether on site or off.
* The hotel as built may have up to 145 guest rooms. After its construction, the hotel may expand to as many as 160 hotel rooms, as long as the its footprint does not expand and the proportion of dedicated parking spaces to guest rooms is maintained. (The currently proposed 50-foot height of the hotel is the maximum allowed by zoning.)
* Hotel signage will conform to city requirements. All signage shall consist either of metal plaques or of channel letters attached to the building, and all signage shall be illuminated only by external light sources. (Channel letters are essentially solid three-dimensional letters.) The only exceptions are to be a pair of internally lit vertical “blade signs” on the hotel’s Main Street side. The signs are to be positioned so that neither they nor their illumination shall be visible from Watts or Buchanan or from neighboring homes.
* To preserve the view to the south from porches of neighboring homes, the hotel’s western wall is to be set back 30 feet from Buchanan Boulevard and 16 feet from Buchanan’s sidewalk. If this provision is approved by the city’s Design District Review Team, then the setback shall be dedicated for public use.
For their part, the developers — led by Concord Hospitality Enterprises Group of Raleigh — required some concessions by the Neighborhood Association. Perhaps the key item is that the association endorse and actively advocate for the project, which still must secure a special use permit. The deal also requires the association to back the project even if the Design District Review Team rejects the setback.
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One reason Trinity Park residents were so concerned about the hotel is that an early version of the design featured a modern look that was not in keeping with the neighborhood’s historic character. (That’s why stucco would be banned in the deal.) Concord turned to local preservation-minded architect Eddie Belk to take another go at the building, a decision that City Councilman Eugene Brown praised at last night's meeting.
The McPherson Hospital won’t be retained in its entirety. The back half of the building will essentially be removed to accommodate the hotel’s central section, which will be linked to wings on either side of the original structure. The current plan seems more palatable to residents than the modern design and then one reported blueprint in which the hospital would have been demolished.
But to say that those at Wednesday’s board meeting generally approved of the deal isn’t to say that concerns about how the Residence Inn will affect the neighborhood have vanished.
The developers want to convert Watts to a two-way street between Main Street and Lamond Avenue, which will prevent delivery trucks from being required to venture north into the residential neighborhood. But residents are clearly anxious about whether hotel guests and staff will end up competing with them for parking in a district where space for cars can be scarce.
“They feel fairly confident that they’re getting their parking ratio right or even overdoing it a bit,” Hodges-Copple stated, explaining that many hotel guests are expected to be spending two or more weeks at Duke University. Because of the extended-stay nature of the hotel and the existence of bus service such as the free Bull City Connector, the developer believes that many guests are unlikely to be racking up long-term rental car charges.
“Sorry, that’s not the right answer,” retorted Stefanie Kandzia, who lives about a block north of the hotel site on Buchanan.
Others shared her concern. But Brown noted that the zoning for the site, Downtown Design-Support 2, allows a wide variety of potential uses, including offices and apartments. What’s more, DD-S2 doesn’t require that any parking be secured.
The negotiators were asked to check on the level of staffing at the hotel, and there was clearly interest among neighbors in exploring various parking restrictions that might keep curbs clear for residents’ cars. But in the end, no one said that the deal should be scrapped or renegotiated because of parking or traffic concerns.
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As mentioned previously, the scene Wednesday night was a far cry from the situation a few years ago, when the proposed hotel pitted neighbor against neighbor.
Jennifer Minnelli was president of the neighborhood association from 2008 to 2009. The proposed hotel was “pretty much the dominating issue while I was president,” she said ruefully.
“A lot of this I have intentionally blocked out because it was a very challenging time,” she said.
The hotel site at the time was owned by Lou Goetz. The project created two factions.
“There was a group of neighbors that really were in support of whatever Lou Goetz was going to put up there, and really felt like something needed to be there,” Minnelli recalled. “And I see that perspective because here you have a dilapidated building and an eyesore parking lot.”
Others were more skeptical. “There [was] a more preservation-oriented group of neighbors who were very distrustful of Mr. Goetz and his plans, and ... once he flipped the hotel property to Marriott, then they were even more distrustful,” Minnelli said.
Eventually the neighborhood association delegated dealings with the developer to its Urban Planning Committee. The group’s McPherson Subcommittee — Hodges-Copple, John Swansey and the association’s current and past presidents Adam Haile and Philip Azar, respectively — worked with the developer and neighbors to collect and air concerns and to reach an arrangement.
George Stanziale’s firm, HadenStanziale, is serving as landscape architects and civil engineers for the project.
“We’ve given an awful lot, but we’re happy with that,” Stanziale said prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s going to be a great project for the city and Trinity Park.”
Which brings us back to where we started — the neighborhood association meeting.
“Give yourselves a pat on the back,” Brown told the negotiating subcommittee. “I can say it now publicly — it’s a fine plan.”
Haile just became president in April, so his involvement has been minimal. But he expressed optimism about the prospect of reaching agreements with future developers over other projects.
“I think the fact that we have implemented a process here to gather and channel information from the developer … to the neighbors and commentary from the neighbors to the developer is a very positive step,” Haile said.
The bottom line, in his view? “I think we’ve set a good model for future negotiations.”