Grand plans for a 127-room national chain hotel, an additional 58-room boutique hotel, a restaurant and a parking garage all to be built on the same city block provoked a not-in-my-backyard revolt Monday night at the Durango Planning Commission.
Ten neighbors, mostly from East Third Avenue, objected to the potential obstruction of their mountain views, noise, light pollution, the project’s “massive scale” and the congestion of “sardines being smashed together.”
“For me, this definitely changes the character of the neighborhood,” said Jon Westrup about the project proposed for the East Second Avenue block between Fifth and Fourth streets, across the road from Gazpacho New Mexican Restaurant.
Westrup said the project would “impact those evenings when the sun shines through my living room.”
Michael Todt said, “You’re going to be taking away the view I wanted when I moved to Durango.”
While the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval for some building variances, the necessary follow up public hearing with the City Council was delayed indefinitely because Greg Hoch, director of community development, recommended that there be a neighborhood meeting with the developer, Scott McCallister, first.
Planning Commissioner Joe Lewandowski cast the only opposition vote because he said there should be more opportunity for community input, but added that neighbors were “fooling themselves” if they thought the vacant lot was never going to be developed.
Commissioner Ron Meier said he did not like “Denver blocks” either.
“I feel for you. I know what you’re up against – the loss of sunsets, the changing neighborhood,” he said.
But Meier said the city’s oversight was limited because the land already is zoned for commercial development. If the developer had not asked for some building variances, he would not have needed to come before the city for approval.
Commissioner Peter Tregillus said he felt there were enough compromises to keep the project from being a “lot uglier.”
McCallister, owner of the Best Western Rio Grande Inn, has proposed several projects for the adjacent lot to the Rio Grande during the last eight years.
His latest proposal is to build luxury, upscale hotels, a hospitality niche he feels the city is lacking. The new hotels would add to the hotel row because they would be in vicinity of the Rio Grande, the Wyndham and the Durango Lodge.
The two hotels also would follow this year’s opening of Holiday Inn & Suites and a Homewood Suites.
McCallister would like to build a luxury chain hotel on the southern end at Fourth Street, which he estimated would open the earliest in the summer of 2015.
A smaller boutique hotel would follow at the northern end of the property by Fifth Street a few years later, depending on market demand.
The hotels would be separated by 28-foot wide gap and built atop a parking garage. The hotels would be built L-shaped to provide for a courtyard in the middle.
McCallister would like a 66-foot height variance for a low, southwest corner. The downtown height maximum is 55 feet.
Plus, McCallister is asking for a partial abandonment of 15 feet of public right of way on the east side of Second Avenue and 25 feet of public right-of-way on the north side of Fourth Street.
These concessions would expand the project from 1.1 aces to 1.3 acres. City officials were amenable to the public right of way abandonment because Second Avenue is already very wide at 80 feet and Fourth Street is a substandard street that would not be developed anyway.
McCallister has agreed to a pedestrian stairway on Fourth Street on up to Third Avenue to allow for public access. As a condition of the project, McCallister would limit access to the courtyard to 7 a.m. to 10: p.m.
City staff members recommended approval on the height variance to prevent worse configurations in the building lay out.
“For neighbors, it’s the best design we’ve seen,” said City Planner Nicol Killian.
McCallister said he is seeking city backing on the variances to attract investment.
The project, however, has not gone through an engineering analysis nor a traffic study.
Final plans would still have to come back to the city for review.