City Council moves permit for Emmet Street hotel forward
The replacement of a hotel lost in a 2017 fire is moving toward rising from the ashes.
After about an hour of discussion, the Charlottesville City Council voted, 4-1, Monday to approve a special-use permit for the Gallery Court Hotel, which would replace the Excel Inn & Suites at 140 N. Emmet St. The 1950s-era motel originally was named the Gallery Court Motor Hotel and hosted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when Robert F. Kennedy invited him for a lecture.
Under the permit, the 72-room hotel will rise 80 feet, which exceeds the 60-foot maximum in the city’s Urban Corridor Mixed Use District and its Entrance Corridor district. The 21,300-square-foot building is estimated to generate $565,000 in tax revenue, according to city documents.
According to the building’s plans, it will include a street-level café that will have a roof that also serves as a screen for the parking garage’s Emmet Street frontage and a terrace for community space on the third floor. Outdoor seating areas also include a guest-only space on the third floor and a rooftop snack bar, the plans state.
Last month, the Planning Commission, which also serves as the Entrance Corridor Review Board, recommended approval of the special-use permit with 12 conditions. The stipulations included constructing a 6-foot-wide curbside buffer and a 7-foot-wide sidewalk, as well as reserving space for a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane; restricting parking to patrons of businesses on the property; and changing the design of the corner of the building oriented toward the intersection of Emmet Street and Ivy Road to draw attention away from its height. The council endorsed the conditions, along with a stipulation that any streetscaping would not move the curb line of Emmet Street to avoid potentially affecting a proposed streetscape project for Emmet Street.
During Monday’s public hearing, several Lewis Mountain residents spoke out against the project, citing its increased height, the loss of the city’s current architectural character and traffic concerns at the Emmet and Ivy intersection.
“Opposition is appreciated, but to guise it under any other intentions or motives at the expense of the process is disheartening,” Vipul Patel, of Incaam Hotels LLC, said of a Sept. 11 public hearing on the permit. Patel’s family has owned the hotel since the 1980s.
“We need urban buildings in the right place,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said.
“We’ve got to create corridors that are engines for generating revenue. … And then we capture that differential of revenue and we plow it into the housing fund,” she said, referring to a memo she wrote earlier this year about dedicating tax revenue in some districts for affordable housing.
“I think the argument would be that in the absence of a compelling public policy rationale, we don’t grant [special-use permits],” Councilor Mike Signer, who voted against the permit, said. “… We do have a lot of hotels coming online, I see the merits of this particular project and the fact that it’s a local, minority owned, family owned business, but I don’t … see it as that compelling here.”
“To me, the question of public policy is: Do we find something so compelling that we don’t follow the rules? And, in this case, I don’t … if it’s just about adding more hotel rooms, … I don’t particularly see it right now,” Signer said.
Before the hotel’s preliminary site plan is approved, the Entrance Corridor Review Board must vote on a certificate of appropriateness for the project.
Earlier in the evening, during the consent agenda, the City Council approved the first step toward permit parking in the northern portion of the Belmont neighborhood.
The ordinance was written after several Belmont residents requested permit parking. A parking survey in late spring determined that the 600 block of Hinton Avenue met the city’s criteria for permit parking because at least 75 percent of its on-street parking were occupied, and commuters used 50 percent of those spaces.
The approved ordinance creates a parking zone that stretches from Sixth Street Southeast to Carlton Road and from the CSX tracks to Monticello Avenue. With the zone in place, streets within it can be considered for parking permits. The city receives petitions for permit parking each between May 1 and the last day of February of the following year, and the parking surveys usually are held between March 1 and April 30.
Unless changed later, the general hours for the permit restriction would be from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. At the September meeting, Councilor Kathy Galvin requested the creation of a comprehensive parking plan and strategy for the neighborhood before the official creation of the parking zone in February and the exploration of using unused office parking lots as a solution for evening parking concerns in downtown Belmont.