Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Planning Board staunchly opposes Grffith Hotel, Town Board still minimizing concerns

In a nearly 2 hour meeting last Monday night, the Davidson Planning Board unanimously voted that the proposed Griffith Street Hyatt Place hotel was "inconsistent" with Davidson's planning principals and plans.

That's equivalent to a big thumbs down from the citizen group charged specifically to look at these issues in gory detail.  While the Planning Board recommendation is not binding, it is a very strong signal that there are very real issues with this project.

The discussion touched on many of the issues raise here at aShortChronicle with one of the primary ones being parking.  The latest update for the hotel after the public hearing actually made this aspect of the plan worse.  The plan now has just 101 spaces for a 115 room hotel.  That is a reduction from 113 due to the developer no longer including as much on-street parking.  This would appear to be in response to questions asked primarily by Commissioner Jim Fuller at the last Board meeting prior to the public hearing.  The on-street parking part of the plan now includes only those spaces immediately adjacent to the proposed hotel property.

At just 101 spaces, the plan is now 48 spaces (or 32%) short of the requirements per the Davidson Planning ordinance.

Planning Board members also stated the plan was inconsistent with previously approved Town plans.  It did not provide a good transition to the adjacent residential neighborhoods.  Comments were made about it's impact on storm water as well as its proximity to two schools.

While specific safety issues and the public outcry against the project were acknowledged, they were not part of the "inconsistency statement" unanimously passed by the Planning Board because those items aren't within the Planning Board's purview.  Planning Board Chair, Micky Pettus, did say this regarding the public response and referring to the Board of Commissioners.  "There has been a lot of public outcry. They are deaf if they haven't heard it."

Unfortunately, on Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners meeting showed Davidson's elected officials just might be that deaf.

In a discussion at the monthly work session that lasted less than an hour  (or less than half of the time the planning board discussed it), Davidson's electeds appeared to be running down a pre-determined checklist to minimize or discredit the very concerns the brought up by the Planning Board as well as safety concerns expressed by citizens.

Parking concerns? No problem.  Minimum parking standards are old news according to the Town's planners.  Plus, the developer says it will be fine.  Screening the development from impacting West Side neighbors?  No problem.  We'll use the left over trees to fill in the space behind Woodies.  However, there is no finalized landscaping plan to ensure this works.  Wondering about the possibility of a hotel on the horizon in the long-planned location next to Davidson Clinic right by I77?  Can't talk about that because an application hasn't been submitted even though we know that is an imminent possibility.

Safety?  Well, safety is something we'll talk about for a little bit.

For the first time during the long discussion surrounding this hotel, Davidson Commissioners did discuss safety concerns for more than a few seconds.  Unfortunately, as much time was spent minimizing the concerns as addressing them.

Police Chief Penny Dunn did refer to an alleged 2016 incident where an anti-trafficking advocacy group claims it ran an intervention operation locally.  However, rather than attempting to verify the allegations the focus seemed to be much more on attempting to discredit the activist group.  This of course completely ignores the implications of what such an event would mean as to the likelihood of real trafficking occurring in the area.

There was also discussion around school security with a clear emphasis on that being the schools' issue to solve.  This of course completely ignores the fact that the design of this hotel (street parking and public plaza) encourages the intermingling of neighboring uses making school security more difficult.

There were a couple of safety related questions that are much harder to ignore however.

Chief Dunn did acknowledge that large hotel chains have invested in training to combat human trafficking related crimes.  That includes Hyatt.  In fact Hyatt has partnered with the Polaris Project to provide this type of training to its managed hotels.  Readers may remember that this type of training and the Polaris Project specifically were mentioned in this post.  The fact that Hyatt would go to the trouble and expense of having this type of program debunks the idea that this type of activity doesn't or can't happen in these types of hotels.

Local consultant Melissa Boyes had this to say about the existence of this training days before the board meeting.  "That this training exists indicates that the industry recognizes the risk. I'm an organizational behavior consultant specializing in global risk management; I can say with certainty that no corporation invests in this kind of training in the absence of a very real risk. It's far too costly to develop, deploy, monitor compliance and maintain. Do I think any given hotel is positively teeming with pedophiles, traffickers, and kidnappers? No. Do I think Town and local business leadership are willfully denying what the industry itself has acknowledged? Yep."

At the Board meeting there was also discussion about how guests might be checked to ensure sex offenders aren't staying at a hotel, particularly a hotel immediately next to an elementary/middle school.  Again, Chief Dunn was not able to provide a reassuring answer.  There is no national database tracking offenders and each state manages its own.  There would be no effective way to track this or enforce that guests are checked.  The best Chief Dunn could do was say businesses would be unlikely to have employees who were sex offenders travel for work because of the liability that would involve.

These last two items of course raise the question...again...

"Why put a use such as a hotel that even has to worry about these things next to two schools?!?!  It is simply asking for trouble."

Unfortunately, Davidson elected officials are still entertaining that question.

Contact the Board at Board@townofdavidson.org this week to let them know what you think.  They could vote on this proposal as early as next Tuesday, October 10th.

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