Charlottesville’s City Council has granted permission for a 101-foot-tall hotel to be built on West Main Street, the fourth time in the past two years that an applicant has been granted the maximum height allowed on the street.
The nine-story Sycamore House Hotel will be built on the site of the existing Studio Art Shop at 1106 W. Main.
“We feel like we have a project that really embodies the city’s vision for West Main Street, specifically an active urban planned West Main Street,” Austin Flajser, president of Carr City Centers of Alexandria, said at Monday’s council meeting.
Councilor Bob Fenwick was the lone vote against granting the special-use permit because he said too many have been approved recently on West Main.
“If we want to maintain the character of our city, we’ve got to be careful about what we call special-use permits because they are no longer special,” Fenwick said.
Under the city’s zoning code, new buildings can only be 70 feet tall on the southern side of West Main. However, applicants can ask the council for a permit to go as high as 101 feet with an additional 16 feet allowed on up to 25 percent of the building’s footprint.
Carr City Centers sought and received the maximum 117 feet, including the additional height for what’s known as an appurtenance. Flajser said the extra space is needed to make the project economically viable.
In December 2012, the council granted a special-use permit for what became the eight-story Flats at West Village. In November 2013, it voted to allow a similar building across the street, and a third was approved at 1000 W. Main last January.
This year, the council will consider whether to adopt a new streetscape for West Main. One component will be a potential downzoning of the street to prevent future structures as large as those recently approved.
Fenwick said that wouldn’t be necessary if the council would stop granting the special-use permits.
Flajser argued that the size of the hotel is justified by its surroundings.
“The height of the building we’re talking about tonight already exists on that block,” Flajser said, referring to both the new University of Virginia children’s hospital and parking garage.
“When we were at the Board of Architectural Review, it was seen as a positive that we’re helping to break down the scale of the parking garage,” Flajser added.
Flajser said the permit should be granted because he said the hotel will generate $17 million in tax revenue over the next 20 years without being a drain on city services.
“In addition to the real estate tax that a residential use might pay, we’ve got meals taxes, sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes,” Flajser said. “Our hotel guests don’t put their children in the city’s school system while they stay with us overnight.”
Councilor Dede Smith supported the project.
“I think this is a much better use for a large building on West Main than the previous residential ones, and since I voted against all of those, I wanted to say that,” Smith said.
However, she said she was concerned the project would only have 90 parking spaces. Flajser said he will collaborate with other garages and lots to work out an arrangement for overflow parking.
Members of the Planning Commission had objected to a vehicle drop-off point being built on West Main Street. Since then it has been moved to 11th Street. However, a representative from the UVa Medical Center expressed continuing concern over the project’s impacts.
“Our concern is 11th Street and access to the hospital and how this will impact that,” said Charlie Hurt, director of real estate and leasing services at UVa. “There are over 1,700 appointments every weekday at the hospital.”
Hurt also wanted to ensure that an existing bus pull-off at the site would not be removed. The proposed West Main streetscape calls for buses to let passengers off in the vehicular lane.
“There are about seven stops an hour in front of Sycamore House and to eliminate that pull-off means the buses have to stop there seven times an hour, and that would impact right-turn movements onto 11th Street,” Hurt said.
Several councilors requested that Flajser make every effort to employ local residents when the building is constructed. Councilor Kristin Szakos encouraged the hotel to pay its workers a “living wage.”
Flajser said the hotel will generate about 40 jobs and the restaurant will provide even more. However, he could not make any guarantees because another company will actually operate the hotel while Carr City Centers will maintain ownership.