Monday, October 17, 2016

#Catalyst2: Davidson Hotel...Traffic Impact Analysis to be completed. Parking to be a major question.

When the proposal for the new 6 story Hyatt Place hotel and restaurant along Davidson's Griffith Street was submitted back in August, maybe the most glaring omission for the project was the lack of a Transportation Impact Analysis, or TIA.  The application submitted by local zoning attorney, Susan Irvin, said one was not completed because the property was going to be less than 75,000 square feet and per the town ordinance one was not required.

Then, just before the public information session   held October 3rd, the Town released its preliminary analysis of the project.  The hotel will be a tad smaller than originally expected based on the number of rooms coming in at 107 rather than 115.  However, the document also contained reference that a TIA would be completed because the hotel would total 85,000 square feet.  aShortChronicle reached out to Ms Irvin to see what had changed and why the increase in size after the application was submitted.  Below is Irvin's response.

"My understanding is that the upper floor plans have not been completely designed even now, but the hotel architect started out with a template for the ground floor.  Once they had comments from staff and flagship, they drilled down on the details – coffee shop space on the first floor, room layouts for 107 +/-rooms, flagship requirements, rooftop restaurant, etc. - that produced a more specific number and the local architect was able to start working on the design of  the exterior based on that information.  The original square footage was an estimate from the hotel architect based on the original first floor hotel template."

aShortChronicle is told by town staff there won't be more scheduled public meetings on the project, such as the required combined Planning Board/Town Board meeting or the public hearing, until this study is done.  That could take several weeks.

However, there is one immediate impact to the discussion.  Parking.

We'd previously told readers about the potential parking issues with the site.  In the project proposal the developer plans to only provide 70 off street spaces on its own site.  The plan also includes 19 on-street spaces and 29 "shared" spaces with Woodies next door.  Both of these pieces of the parking plan are allowed by town ordinance.

The problem?

The town ordinance requires 2 parking spaces per 1000 square feet of commercial space.  That small amount was called out in the earlier article when the estimate for the hotel was smaller.  Now that the hotel is bigger, the parking plan is well below town requirements.

At 85,000 sq feet the hotel should have 170 spaces, not 118.  That's 52 spaces short of minimum requirements.  According to the staff analysis, the developer says that may be no big deal.

"Usage patterns vary depending on the nature of each commercial space.  Based on their experience developing and operating the nearby Homewood Suites Hotel, the developer believes that parking area to be over-built after observing actual usage patterns. The developer noted that many visitors do not arrive at that hotel in their own private car but instead utilize taxis, corporate transportation, or ride-sharing services that do not require their use of parking facilities. Their experience in this local context informed the current proposal."

The problem with that logic?

These two hotels will be fundamentally different in one particular way.  The proposed Hyatt Place plans to have a roughly 5000 sq foot rooftop restaurant!

According to town staff, the restaurant will be calculated as a separate use beyond the hotel in the TIA.  It should also be noted, the hotel will have less than 1200 sq feet of meeting space, and  per the town, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) this is considered an "ancillary use" for the hotel.  Basically, that means it's small enough to not attract large additional meetings or gatherings such as weddings.  Meeting space will not be calculated as a separate use.

The inclusion of a restaurant and the volume of cars it will attract is not the only problem with parking.  The plan also includes 29 "shared" spots with Woodies Auto next door.

The problem with that?

Woodies only has 29 off street parking spots!  That's not sharing.  That's more like taking.

The 29 spots at Woodies includes 3 handicapped spots and 2 spots right at the front door.  These can't realistically be included.  That leaves 24 spaces.  Sharing would imply no more than half of these should be included.

Common decency would say the Hyatt place should be able to claim no more than 12 spaces on the Woodies site, not 29.

Adding further to the parking problem is the fact that that the site is currently used entirely for parking.  On any given day you can see 20+ vehicles parked there.  While that may not be the developer's problem, it is a problem for the town.  One can reasonably expect that most or all of the 19 on-street parking spaces to be regularly consumed by the vehicles currently using that lot if a hotel is built.

As a practical matter, both of these situations are primarily weekday problems rather than nights or weekends which will alleviate the situation somewhat because those are the peak times for a hotel and not for CSD and Woodies.  However during the weekday that would mean the hotel proposal is effectively an additional 17 spaces short for Woodies and probably the full 19 short for its on-street parking - providing only 82 usable spaces, not 118.

Any TIA that is completed needs to directly take all of this into account and not just look at the peak use for the hotel and potential restaurant.

Regardless, this project is now looking at 3 significant approvals from the town.  1) Change of use for a hotel.  2) An increase in height to allow 6 stories.  3) At least a 30% reduction in parking provided versus what's required by ordinance.

That's a lot for Commissioners to approve and still claim to be acting in the best interests of the town.

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