Plans for a downtown, multi-story hotel and apartment building shrunk a bit Tuesday night, while city leaders expressed hope that chances of a compromise with concerned neighbors were growing.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting canceled a vote on the hotel/apartment project at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Instead, developers submitted a new plan that reduces the height of the building on the edge closest to the east Lawrence neighborhood, along with making several other design changes. Commissioners ordered that plan to go to the city’s Historic Resources Commission next week for further review.
“We have a project that has undergone some evolution here,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “That is because the neighborhood and the developer have gotten together, and that is encouraging to see.”
Developers for the project, a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, proposed several changes to the building. They include:
• The portion of the building facing New Hampshire Street would remain six stories in height, but a parapet at the top of the building would be reduced. Overall the New Hampshire Street side of the building would shrink from 79 feet to 74 feet.
• Much of the eastern edge of the building, which is closest to a historic neighborhood on Rhode Island Street, would shrink from five stories to four stories. The building’s height on that edge would reduce from 69 feet to 52 feet. As a result, the project would include 79 hotel rooms instead of the 81 previously envisioned. The project also would include 36 apartment units and retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.
• Vehicles using the hotel’s drop-off lane, which would be between the new building and the adjacent Lawrence Arts Center, would no longer use the alley to exit the property. Instead vehicles would be rerouted into the building’s underground parking garage.
• The building would be moved two feet away from the eastern edge of the property line to allow for the existing alley to be widened.
• Designers will look to replace more contemporary exterior building materials, such as ceramic tile, with more traditional materials.
Several neighbors said they appreciated that developers had made changes to the plans after having two meetings with concerned residents in the area. But they stopped far short of saying they approved of the new plans.
“Each time we meet, we get a little more,” said Phil Collison, who was representing the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. “So I say let’s go for 10 more meetings.”
Collison said several neighbors would much rather see the building shrink to five stories on its New Hampshire Street edge and to three stories along its eastern edge that abuts the neighborhood.
Representatives with the development group said they would continue to meet with neighbors.
“I think we’ll continue to have good discussions in the future,” Compton said. “But it is change, and some people don’t like change, but we’ll continue to work to make it a good project for everybody involved.”
City commissioners offered very few comments about the new design. That’s in part because commissioners may be asked to be judge and jury on the project at a later date. The city’s Historic Resources Commission will next review the project. If the HRC approves the plan, the project theoretically could be built without any City Commission action because the site already has the proper zoning in place.
But if the HRC denies the project, which it did with the previous plan, the City Commission will serve as a quasi-judicial board to hear an appeal of the HRC decision.
The Historic Resources Commission is scheduled to discuss the project at its Dec. 15 meeting, but staff members said they’ll recommend that the HRC take no action at that meeting. Instead, they’ll recommend the project be sent to an HRC subcommittee for discussion about various architectural issues, which will also give developers more time to meet with neighbors.