Village planning commissioners spoke favorably of Gabe Handy’s goal to bring a hotel and restaurant into the village, asking for only minor tweaks before stamping their approval last week.
“We’ve been asking for a hotel for years,” PC vice-chairman John Alden said. “The fact that it goes into a slot that’s almost made for it is great.”
Handy plans to build a 100-unit, four-story hotel and a separate restaurant on properties he purchased several years ago between 92-100 Pearl St. Handy expected about half of his units will be extended stay and said the hotel will bring up to 40 new jobs to the village.
He said the project will also fulfill a need for more short-term lodging in the village, and several residents agreed.
“We’re starving our own restaurants. We’re starving our shopping,” Mary Lefcourt said. “Nobody wants to come into retail spaces because there’s nowhere to stay.”
Last Thursday’s hearing was a mild affair compared to Handy’s previous recent appearances. It concluded in under two hours after mostly positive feedback from commissioners and the public.
The area where Handy plans to develop is mostly vacant, serving in a previous life as a spillover lot from the former car dealership where the Dollar Tree now resides. Most traffic now comes from customers for the food truck, Still Smok’n Vt., whose owners told The Reporter earlier this month they were interested in leasing the restaurant space.
The proposal falls within the village’s transit-oriented development zoning, a district that encourages transportation-friendly development with options like public busing, walking, biking and driving.
Discussion among PC members focused mostly on the site’s parking, access for both pedestrians and drivers and the project’s relationship to Pearl Street.
Engineer Doug Henson of Lamoureux and Dickinson said a high water table ruled out underground parking, so the hotel will offer 40 spaces in a first-floor covered parking area with an additional four spaces reserved outside.
The land development code requires one space per unit for hotels, so Handy needed to fit at least 54 more spaces. And the PC estimated he would need an additional 20 or for the restaurant. But since the TOD district “strongly encourages” shared parking, each new building can count the spaces toward its total, meaning Handy’s 106 spaces met the bar.
Alden encouraged the developer to consider a slightly altered parking layout that would allow drivers to pass through between the two lots to create more connectivity. Community development director Robin Pierce said he would prefer Handy doesn’t do that because it would create a cut-through – something the village has tried to deter. But Alden stuck with it.
“We’ve got some other very popular restaurants in town that are crying because they don’t have parking,” Alden said. “It seems to be a shame to have parking but you can’t get there.”
The village’s staff report, which recommended approving the project, notes Handy’s proposal will reduce the lot’s impervious surface, provide a rain garden on the Pearl Street side of the property and trim lot coverage from 88 to 78 percent. It will also improve pedestrian traffic by removing a curb cut and creating a new sidewalk along the busy road.
Alden pushed Handy a bit further, hoping the developer would focus on the project’s design, including the restaurant’s relationship to the hotel.
“It’s a vast improvement to the front of the streetscape along that length,” Alden said. “If we can fix the dollar store, it’d be even one step better.”
After his last proposal to build a senior housing complex on Main Street spanned five meetings, Handy expected an easier road to approval, and the location indeed worked in his favor this time around.
The TOD district doesn’t allow the PC to consider design review – where Handy’s senior housing complex was caught up – and getting away from the highly residential area of Park Street means fewer neighbors.
Still, one resident lamented the impact the project will have on his family’s life. Danny Hanker, who lives on Pearl Street in a home beside his mother’s house, said he didn’t understand how Handy could “all of a sudden” put a four-story building next door.
“We look out the door, we won’t get the sun – now we’re going to be looking at the side of a commercial building?” he asked. “I hope you guys take into consideration our quality of life.”
“We face these challenging decisions almost every time we have a project,” PC chairman David Nistico responded. “Especially where residential areas bump up against commercial areas, we do try to take into consideration everybody who’s in this situation.”
Before handing down its decision, the PC noted several conditions, including screening from headlights for the apartment building behind the project and a confirmation that the buildings’ façade facing Pearl Street will meet the elevation required by code. Commissioners also granted a waiver for the project for failing to meet the required 28-foot frontage.
“I think they’ve earned the waiver,” Alden said.