The idea came up last week, posed by the neighbors and opponents of the Hyatt project, that they would accept a three-story hotel with underground parking. One opponent suggested this was a “workable compromise.”
But there is some question about the viability of the project with those changes. As Will Arnold stated at the council meeting a week ago, “My understanding is that underground parking is a no go and that going down to three stories would result in sacrificing a lot of the things that we find very beneficial about this project, including many of its environmental attributes,” he explained.
It is hard to evaluate the feasibility of such proposals and several have noted that sometimes what developers claim they cannot afford, becomes feasible.
As a caveat for what I’m about to propose, I will note that I have not discussed this idea with either developers or neighbors, but I throw this out as a sort of outside-the-box thinking that I think we need to start considering.
If the neighbors believe that underground parking will help reduce impacts to their neighborhood, have they considered funding it themselves?
Before you dismiss the idea, consider the following.
The Trackside project is largely crowdfunded. There are no huge financial backers there. Instead, the development team got a huge amount of people to contribute something on the order of $30,000 and made a whole bunch of people, who would never think of becoming developers, into investors.
Why couldn’t a similar concept work for the hotel?
Instead of neighbors standing by passively hoping to gain a few concessions from the developers, what if they each plopped down $30,000 and became investors? If 30 neighbors each contributed $30,000 each, that alone would be nearly a million. While underground parking is probably more than twice that cost, the neighbors would be meeting the developers in the middle.
In addition, they would go from merely being neighbors, to stakeholders – people with a vested interest in making sure the project works. While underground parking would not deal with the privacy issue, it would deal with concerns that, on heavy days, parking would spill onto Cowell and perhaps into the neighborhood (at least with employee parking).
While I do not believe a straight three stories would be doable, some have suggested that it go to three and a half stories, with no rooms on the backside. That would further address the privacy issue by eliminating the ability for fourth-story windows to look into the backyards of those neighbors who back up to the greenbelt.
My other thought on that would be, instead of eliminating the rooms altogether, why not build the fourth-story rooms without backside windows? The hotel could offer the rooms at a discount to guests who are not concerned with having windows – allowing the hotel to retain the use of the rooms but not impacting the privacy of the neighbors.
There has been some question and discussion about how much the neighbors have worked to create a possibility of compromise. It was noted to me early in the process that the view of the neighbors was, “I don’t want to discuss the hotel project. I want the hotel project to go away.”
Understandable, but now at this point the council clearly sent the message that there is going to be a hotel project, and the question is now how to make it the best possible project with the least amount of impacts.
And by the way, to the neighbors, you definitely want this project to succeed because, worse than having a hotel blocking your view, is to have an empty hotel that blocks your view and becomes blight.
The question now is whether there are ways forward to make this a win-win and I think that calls for some thinking outside of the box. If you think that underground parking makes things better, then consider funding it and taking ownership of the project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting