Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hotel proposal could make Davidson "unique"...and not in a good way

After hours of online research, it appears the idea of making zoning changes to allow a hotel next to an elementary or middle school is not all that common.   That's probably something not all that surprising to most.   After trying to find examples, aShortChronicle came across only a few going back to 2007.

These examples show that safety is regularly a primary concern, and projects get rejected for that reason.  Where they aren't rejected, one of two things seems to be present.  The hotel projects get development conditions put on them that cannot be replicated in the Davidson situation - walls or fences surrounding the hotel are required to prevent mixing with students, or there is an existing mature tree buffer, or both.  These approved examples also do not connect to the school property via a road.

If Davidson Commissioners approve the proposed Hyatt Place plan for Griffith Street next to the Community School of Davidson, they will be approving something outside the norm of these situations.  Not only would that be unusual, they would be supporting a project that has design elements that make the situation worse than the examples described below.  The design of the Hyatt Place proposal actually encourages intermingling of people from the different uses because of the high proportion of on-street parking for the hotel and a plaza fronting the hotel along Griffith.  Not to mention there is no possibility of any sort of buffer between the uses because they sit across a shared street.

Here is what the research found...

In this first example from Richland Township in Pennsylvania, a planning board initially approved the zoning but required a solid fence between the hotel and school.  After a court proceeding the local school system bought the property out of safety concerns to prevent the hotel from being built.

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In this case from 2007 in Lehi Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, the decision makers were also dealing with a conditional zoning.  The Board approved the rezoning, but with conditions "to require the hotel to construct a 12-foot wall between the hotel and the school, and trees to block the view from the hotel's upper stories, at the recommendation of the school district. The hotel was also required to create a security plan with Lehi police, among other requirements."

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According to the below picture from Google, the Lehi hotel was never built.  Inquiries as to exactly why the hotel was not built have not been successful, but the hotel is not there.

In this 2nd case from 2007, a proposal in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles was unanimously rejected.  aShortChronicle first told readers about this example last year.  In this case the some of the issues echo the concerns from Davidson's West Side residents regarding gentrification.

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The next example from 2012/2013 is another rejection.  This time from Plymouth Township in Pennsylvania.  In this example, the town was willing to fight the developer in court rather than compromise its planning ordinance to allow a hotel next to a school.  The land was approved for another use after the town won the case, and a storage facility with no connection to the school and a substantial tree buffer exists today.

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These last two examples are approvals involving hotels in proximity to schools.  However, in these cases the situation on the ground is not at all like the one in Davidson.

In the first case from Brunswick, GA just this past June, an approval was recommended to sell alcohol at a new hotel in an area zoned for such a use.  That area happened to be adjacent to an elementary school.  The new hotel would have a cedar fence separating the properties in addition to no direct road connection and a substantial tree buffer.

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Now take a look at the below Google aerial view.

Notice that the school is not really adjacent to the hotel property even though the properties abut.  Also, the school owns the wooded land that provides a major buffer which means it is under the school's control.

This final example is a bit different.  It's from the Atlanta area in 2017. This one is a high school, not an elementary/middle school.

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While this hotel was approved it was not allowed to serve alcohol.  Other conditions include "a fence on the property; rooms accessible only through a central hallway; and no weekly or monthly rental rates advertised."

Here is the Google aerial of the site.  The high school is on the bottom.  Again, a mature tree buffer and a fence separate the properties.

So, as all of these examples show, Davidson will be way out on a limb compared to other municipalities
if it approves this rezoning.  When it comes to these decisions, safety and fitting in with the surroundings are top priorities whether the example is from an urban, suburban, or rural area.

Being different is good - sometimes.  This decision in Davidson is not one of those times.

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