CARAG — A City Council committee on Thursday brushed aside an appeal filed by a neighbor attempting to halt an Uptown hotel project.
Graves Hospitality plans a six-story, 123-room hotel at Lake & Emerson that would operate under Marriott’s new Moxy brand, pitched to travelers as stylish, modern and affordable. The Zoning and Planning Committee denied an appeal filed by Philip Qualy, who challenged the City Planning Commission’s decision to grant the hotel developers a conditional use permit for height, as well as several variances.
The committee also approved a rezoning of the hotel parcel to a C3A Community Activity Center District from C2, a type of commercial zoning geared toward automobile-related uses like repair shops and fast food restaurants with drive-throughs. The project is expected to go before the full council later this month.
“We’re here because the developer wants to build a large hotel on a small site,” said Tom Johnson, the attorney representing Qualy for the appeal.
Qualy, who lives on the 3000 block of Emerson Avenue just south of the hotel site, said the six-story hotel would harm residential property values on his block and infringe on his and his neighbors’ privacy. He said a hotel would be more appropriate near Hennepin & Lake, an area identified as an “activity center” in the 2008 Uptown Small Area Plan.
Although the hotel’s height drops to five stories on the south side, Uptown residents testified that the project does not “step down” to the neighborhood in the way the small area plan envisioned.
“Many Uptown residents view (the small area plan) as a contract with the city,” Aaron Rubenstein, a CARAG resident who served on the plan’s steering committee, said. “… This type of project is precisely what the plan was meant to disallow.”
But opinions were split among the 15 people who testified before the committee.
Julie Vessel of mono said 90 percent of the Uptown-based branding and advertising agency’s business is from customers who live outside of the area. A hotel that allowed customers and new recruits to stay in the neighborhood “would be a great benefit to our business,” Vessel said.
Alex Cecchini said the hotel “meets the spirit and intent” of the Uptown Small Area Plan. Cecchini, a CARAG resident, suggested the plan itself is flawed because it “mischaracterizes” the actual uses of Uptown properties and that it “hasn’t kept up with the changing reality” of the area.
There remained questions about how the hotel would manage parking. City requirements set a minimum of 35 parking stalls for the project, but there are only five included in plans. Valet service to a nearby ramp is expected to make up the difference.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, a member of the committee, questioned whether the hotel’s customers would actually pay for valet parking instead of finding a free spot on the street in the neighborhood. Goodman noted she recently paid $9 for valet parking at a restaurant, but would usually skip the fee and park a few blocks away.
Ben Graves of Graves Hospitality argued that hotel guests, unlike restaurant patrons, are less likely to seek out free parking in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Graves estimated most of their guests would arrive by transit, and that they’ll have to park just 30–35 cars even when at maximum capacity.
Graves acknowledged they do not yet have a contract with a valet company to manage hotel parking, but said that would quickly follow final approvals from the city. He said he was already in contact with the owners of several area ramps.