City Council approves seven-story hotel near Lambeth

The permit will allow the Gallery Court Hotel to be built 20 feet over the height of City zoning codes

gallerycourt

The hotel is expected to include a seven foot-wide sidewalk and a five-foot wide bike lane on Emmett Street along with the addition of a public café to the building’s front to make the six-story building appear smaller from the sidewalk. 

Courtesy nbj Architecture | Cavalier Daily

The Charlottesville City Council voted 4-1 Monday to approve a special-use permit for a seven-story Gallery Court Hotel adjacent to Lambeth Dorms and Carr’s Hill near the intersection of Emmet Street, Ivy Street and University Avenue, despite opposition from several residents over the structure’s height. 

Councilor Mike Signer cast the dissenting vote. 

The proposed hotel will replace the Excel Inn and Suites that burned down in May 2017 on the same property. The special-use permit was needed for the building to be able to stand at 80 feet — 20 feet higher than Charlottesville’s zoning codes allows in the area. 

The SUP request received recommendation for approval from the City Planning Commission last month. Five of seven of the commission members recommended that the Council approve the hotel’s 80 foot height. 

The Planning Commission recommend the Council require that the hotel meet certain conditions in order to receive approval — including the construction of a seven foot wide sidewalk and a five-foot wide bike lane on Emmett Street along with the addition of a public café to the building’s front to make the seven-story building appear smaller from the sidewalk. 

City Council’s approval will still require that all 12 of the Commission’s conditions be met for the hotel to be built. 

At Monday's Council meeting, several residents of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood — located off of Ivy Street and Emmett Street near the hotel site  — voiced concerns about the height and density of the proposed building. 

In a letter read by her neighbor Serena Scott Thomas, Bitsy Waters, a Lewis Mountain resident and Charlottesville mayor from 1988 to 1990, said the height and density of the proposed structure would be inconsistent with the surrounding environment. 

“This is not primarily a neighborhood issue, it’s about what we want our city to look like and how we want it to function moving forward,” Waters said. “Granting this permit would set a precedent of building to 80 feet at this intersection … and will create this kind of close to the street height and density that the majority of residents of Charlottesville have said loudly and clearly they do not want.”

Peter Gray, a Lewis Mountain resident and professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, said he understood why Vipul Patel — owner of the site for the proposed hotel — applied for an SUP, but requested the Council to nevertheless deny it. 

“This is quite clearly a case where someone, who I’m sure is a fine and upstanding business person, is simply doing what business people are supposed to do —  trying to maximize the value of their asset by adding density, unfortunately at the expense of the citizens of Charlottesville,” Gray said. 

Lewis Mountain resident Andrew Crenshaw said the hotel will likely increase traffic on Emmet Street and create significant delays as moritists travel in and out of the neighborhood through the intersection of Emmett Street and Ivy Street. Crenshaw added that motorists may use the neighborhood as a means of avoiding the busy intersection and do so at high rates of speed. 

However, Lewis Mountain resident Scott Ruffner voiced his support the approval of the SUP on the grounds that the property’s development by a private owner would be more beneficial to the City than if the lot was purchased and developed by the University instead. In particular, Ruffner sarcastically identified the nearby George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility — which opened in 2013 on Emmett Street near University Hall — as an example of beneficial development by the University.  

The site for the Gallery Court Hotel — located within city limits — is currently surrounded almost exclusively by property owned by either the University or its real estate and financial services affiliate, the U.Va. Foundation, which owns a number of properties in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County like the Boar’s Head Inn and the U.Va. Research Park on Fontaine Avenue. 

In particular, the 14 acre, University-owned Ivy Corridor — which spans from Emmet Street West to Copeley Road and includes the Cavalier Inn, the Villa and the Emmet/Ivy parking garage — is expected to undergo major redevelopment in the coming years, including the recently initiated demolition of the inn

City records show that Patel’s property was appraised at $896,900.00 in 2018. 

The University did not respond to request for comment regarding any potential proposal by U.Va. to purchase the property from Patel. 

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she supported the project as well on the basis of being able to contribute to the City through employment opportunities and tax revenue in an area where most of the property is owned by the University. 

“Look at all of the hotels that are chain hotels that we have in the city, and you have an owner [Patel] that has been committed to maintaining a business, an independent business, and hiring employees, so contributing to the City overall,” Walker said. “I just don’t know why we would not be supportive of this project.”

According to Monday’s Council meeting agenda materials, the hotel’s projected contribution to the City’s annual tax revenue will be roughly $565,000 with an additional, one time payment of $25,000 in permitting fees. 

In particular, councilors cited the potential financial contributions of the hotel for funding affordable housing construction and redevelopment in the City. Within the past year, the Council has more than doubled the allocation of funds to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund to $5.9 million in the 2019 fiscal year, with $900,000 of these funds being used to support a City-created voucher program to assist low-income residents in meeting their rent payments. 

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is also moving forward with plans to construct new public housing units along South First Street as the Crescent Halls public housing complex is being redeveloped. 

However, Signer voted against granting the SUP, saying he felt the hotel did not provide enough of a public benefit, and added that the connection to affordable housing development was ambiguous. 

Galvin said she did not see the neighborhood’s concerns as legitimate, given that special use permits are allowed under the area’s zoning ordinance. 

“The SUP is in the zoning ordinance, it is allowed,” Galvin said. “A lot has been made about the height ... This is 600 feet away from any neighborhood [so] the argument of the height isn’t holding for me.”

Galvin added that the added traffic in the area caused by the hotel could decrease vehicle  speeds on Emmet street, making the area more welcoming for pedestrians. 

Patel shared how his hotel could benefit the community as well, mentioning his family’s support of non-profits around Charlottesville — including the youth club for classical indian music Spicamay at U.Va., the Indian Association of Charlottesville, and the American Red Cross —  and their ability to continue their support if they were able to continue doing business in the area.  

“The Gallery Court Hotel represents a unique opportunity for many, including my family, the City, the University and the community,” Patel said. “A family owned boutique hotel that will forever retain its glory and be at the most dynamic location in the City.” 

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