The Design and Development Review Board explored in depth the plans and designs for the proposed Hampton Inn & Suites in High Ridge Plaza. The board chose to close the hearing on the development portion of the presentation, while continuing the design portion at their June 4 meeting. The board now has 45 days to issue a zoning permit.
The meeting, which veered off the topic of zoning requirements and design on multiple occasions, was visibly frustrating, especially for the board. Kirk Moore, of BMA architects and the designer of the project, also seemed annoyed by some of the interruptions to his presentation. MANCHESTER - Morality and the pitch of roofs aren't generally mentioned in the same meeting, but it happened last Wednesday night.
However, when asked about the meeting in an interview later, Kevin Mullaney, vice-president of Mullaney Hospitality, who proposed the hotel, said they felt the meeting went very well. Mullaney said the project has received great support from the Manchester business community, as well as other hotel and inn owners. Some may be looking to possibly partner with Hampton Inn and Suites, he said. MANCHESTER - Morality and the pitch of roofs aren't generally mentioned in the same meeting, but it happened last Wednesday night.
The plans call for four buildings in total; the hotel in the back of the five acre parcel and three retail stores in the front near the road.
"[The buildings are] very Vermont vernacular architectural style," Moore said.
In an interview after the meeting, Mullaney said the most important aspect of the design is it is meant to look like it has always been in Manchester. All four buildings will have a brick base and a combination of clapboard siding, shutters and other siding. While the retail spaces will feature some new types of siding and have a bit more of what Moore called a "modern, fresh look" the hotel looks similar to the design presented at the preliminary meeting. The board thought the brick on the front side of the hotel, which in a previous iteration of the design was stone, was too much of a statement and not seen around town. The mansard roofs featured on the retail spaces was also commented on by the board, as a large departure from the "Vermont vernacular."
Kathe Dillmann, a Manchester resident, said these retail stores looked like something you would find in Phoenix, Ariz., Colorado or Albany, N.Y. - not Manchester.
Following the meeting and hearing the board's and audience member's comments, Moore said the actual design of the retail building would not change.
"We have no intentions of making significant changes to it [the design of the buildings]" he said in an interview. "It's different ... we are looking at color scheme, [but] overall the architecture is very much Vermont vernacular."
Meghan Cancio-Bello, a Hillvale neighborhood resident, said people do not come to Vermont to stay in a Hampton Inn, they come to stay in small, local kinds of places. She added that on a personal level, she does not want to look at the hotel or have hotel guests looking into her and her neighbor's windows.
"This is not going to help out the community," she said. "I feel very strongly about it, as a citizen of this town, as a native Vermonter. It is not for the good of the community."
Mark Read, another resident of the abutting neighborhood, wanted to know why the site plan was designed for the hotel to be built down the side of the parcel closest to the neighborhood. Moore said this design made the most sense and that the hotel sits back 92 feet from the property line, more than the 15 feet requirement. There were other questions surrounding traffic in the neighborhood, the view the hotel is blocking and changes to landscaping, such as a proposal to cut down trees.
The board tried to keep the discussion focused on the design. Dillmann specifically wanted to know why the design was discussed first. She said it didn't make any sense to discuss the design before the project was approved.
"If people feel this does not belong - not only in this residential neighborhood, but in the downtown core of Manchester, that needs to be heard," she said. "We need to really discuss it."
Tim Waker, the chairman of the DRB, said that this project's approval is not a given. Design is generally reviewed first, as it may have multiple presentations. When the board moved the discussion along to development, Moore's presentation was once again sidelined by discussion from the audience.
Steven Bauer, the owner of The Inn at Willow Pond, said he knew this project would cause multiple inns and locally owned motels to close. "You're adding 20 percent more rooms to the town with 29 lodging establishments ... you're essentially taking 20 percent of the occupancy away from those 29 properties," he said. "At least a dozen or two dozen of them are closing; they're handing their keys to the bank."
He said that if the two dozen establishments are closed, the town will be ruined aesthetically. Cancio-Bello added to the comment, saying this is a moral issue. She asked how The Mullaney Group, the developers of the proposed hotel, could consciously put small business owners out of business.
"I don't understand why consciously, anybody would make this decision knowing that it is going to affect this town and the small business in such a negative way," she said.
Kevin Mullaney reiterated what he had said at the preliminary hearing, that this property would fill a gap in the lodging community, not put anyone out of business. Bauer and other members of the audience, did not believe Mullaney.
"We all market to families, we all have suites," he said.
Sylvia Jolivette, a Manchester resident, spoke in support of the project. She said that the people at the meeting should look at this project from a different perspective and realize that there could be an even larger or less desirable development moving into the area.
"Now I can think of many other types of businesses in that location that I would shake my head at. This is a clean business, this is an opportunity that is more desirable than other things that could go in there. You want to think of the total business opportunity. Now what else would you like to see go in there other than what is being proposed," she said. "The thing of it is people, if you have the money and you can buy it out, you can do with it what you want...You've got to sort of try and view things from a different point of view. You don't want to be too narrow minded. We're not going to always have things our way."
The discussion continued, but the board tried to bring the focus back to the zoning application. After Moore finished the rest of the presentation, the board voted to close the hearing and will issue their decision within the next 45 days.
This story is an updated version of one posted to our website Friday, May 16.