City Planning Commission recommends approval for six-story hotel near Lambeth

The hotel has been recommended a special exception to allow them to build above city height restrictions

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The six-story Gallery Court Hotel will sit next to Lambeth Field Apartments and Carr's Hill Field.

The City Planning Commission recommended approval for a special-use permit for a six-story hotel Tuesday that would stand next to Lambeth and Carr’s Hill and is completely surrounded by the University. The proposed hotel — which will replace the Excel Inn & Suites that burned down in May 2017 on Emmet Street — requires a special-use permit for the building to be able to stand at 80 feet, 20 feet higher than Charlottesville’s zoning codes allow.

The permit was recommended for approval on the condition that the hotel have a 6-foot planting bed buffer along Emmet Street, a 7-foot-wide sidewalk, on-site stormwater management and requiring all trash and deliveries take place in the garage structure.

Owner Vipul Patel first proposed the new hotel in February. Since then, Patel and his staff have worked with the City to have certain parts of his plan approved. One of the biggest hang-ups was the need of a permit for the proposed height of the hotel. 

Commission members went over reasons that the height will no longer be problematic due to recent revisions, including the addition of a public café to the building’s front.

A café facing Emmet Street was added to the front of the design in order to make the six-story building appear smaller from the sidewalk. Commission members had previously felt a six-story building would loom over pedestrians and stand out from other buildings nearby, threatening the cohesion among structures the Commission often seeks.

“To the pedestrian, the building will only look two stories tall,” said Neil Bhatt, the president of nbj Architecture, the firm behind the hotel’s design. 

The café was also cited as a public benefit — something that is not required for the property alone but is needed in order to obtain certain special-use permits — because it would be accessible to the University community.

“The café is really a vision to me,” Patel said. “It’s meant as a gathering space … it will become a public space for students, community members.”

Some community members came out to share why they believed the hotel plans could have a negative impact on the University and surrounding area.

Warren Boeschenstein, who lives near the proposed hotel and works as an architect, said the extra 20 feet could affect tourism and the University. 

“[When people arrive] in the University area, it would be the dominant and landmark building,” Boeschenstein said. “In a highly symbolic area … this could be misunderstood by first-time visitors.”

Commission member Taneia Dowell noted the property is located in the City of Charlottesville, which is decided separately from the surrounding University property. Dowell pointed out that visually unappealing buildings have been allowed in other parts of the City, and the hotel’s proximity to the University should not hold so much weight. 

“We aren’t looking at this from a city perspective; we’re looking at a prestigious university perspective, when this is City property.”

Because the University is not bound by the City’s height restrictions, nearby University-owned structures could be as tall or taller than the proposed 80-foot hotel. University Architect Brian Hogg told members that there were no plans for the Emmet/Ivy Corridor — the University-owned property that surrounds the Gallery Court Hotel — to be built above 60 feet across the street from the hotel. However, Hogg said that there could be potential to build taller than 60 feet near the Emmet/Ivy Parking Garage. 

“We don’t know what U.Va. is planning across the street … as far as height, we have no specifics,” said Jeff Werner, a land-use field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council. “All of these contribute to mitigating the height of the proposed building.”

Roy van Doorn, who runs City Select, a tourism information company, said the City is severely “underhoteled.” Doorn said the hotel would help address the problem.

“Twenty weekends in the year we are effectively sold out,” van Doorn said. “We lack local ownership in our lodging industry. We also lack walking-distance hotels.” 

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the special-use permit 5-2, which means the permit will now go to the Charlottesville City Council for final approval. 

“After 36 years of proud ownership, our beloved Excel Inn & Suites was shattered in mere hours,” Patel said. “The Gallery Court Hotel represents a unique opportunity for my family.”

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