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  • By Lisa Brody

Hunter House site hotel project challenged

The Birmingham Planning Board unanimously voted to postponed moving forward on a preliminary site plan for a new hotel for 35001 Woodward Avenue on Wednesday, February 27, which would include a new version of Hunter House on its current site, along with two other adjacent parcels, as board members felt there were too many issues that did not meet city standards and ordinances, including building encroachments into road right of ways, lack of proper glazing, traffic and valet concerns, as well as not meeting the size for residential units on the required fifth floor of the development.

A previous preliminary site plan had also been postponed by the planning board at their meeting on January 9, for too many problems with the plan, including traffic and parking issues.

The proposed building, to be developed by Hesham Gayar of Grand Blanc, is located at 35001 and 35075 Woodward Avenue, would be called The Maple. It would have first floor retail and commercial uses, relocate a Hunter House restaurant, have banquet facilities, three floors of hotel rooms, and residential units on the fifth floor.

Planning director Jana Ecker said the site is made up of three parcels: the city, she said, owns the northwest corner, while Gayar owns the other two parcels, one where the Hunter House sits and a gravel parking lot. They are zoned B-4 and D-4. She said the revised plans do not show detailed layouts for all the floors, as required, but just the first first floor.

One issue Ecker pointed out is that the building as designed encroaches into the right of way on Woodward, which would need to receive variances from Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), as well as by two-feet into the right of way onto Park Street. The building, she said, also has height issues.

“It must be no more than 80-feet, with step-backs,” in upper units. “The issue is the eave height at the top of the fourth floor cannot be more than 58-feet,” and it is 60-feet.

Fifth floor units must be at least 600-square feet and have a kitchen, and these, she said, are not drawn to show compliance, appearing to be 300-square feet. Architect Kevin Biddison said units could open up to each other, and in that way could comply with the 600-square foot requirement, which did not satisfy planning board members.

“The fifth floor also must be stepped back 10-feet and it is not,” Ecker said.

The first floor has a restaurant on the southwests corner, with the main entrance to the hotel and the main entrance to the parking garage all on Park Street. In the northeast corner, Hunter House is carved into the building with 14 surface parking spots set aside for it.

The building is designed with two levels of underground parking, inclusive of 71 spaces. As the building is in the parking assessment district, Ecker said they are not required to provide any parking for the hotel, banquet facility or restaurant, but only for the residential units on the fifth floor. “It looks like they would need 36 spaces, but I can't tell because there's not a complete floor plan of the fifth floor. But they're well overparked with 85 spaces.”

The design, she said, also included a “stacking” scheme to represent how valets would park the cars for events.

The hotel would have 108 rooms on floors two, three and four.

The exterior design “has several areas of issues with blank walls,” Ecker said, noting the ordinance requires no areas of blank walls.

“The number of variances requested here is staggering,” said planning board chair Scott Clein. “It's not our purview to determine hardship; that's the board of zoning appeals. But we are a hardship state, so you need to prove some form of hardship to get those approvals. I don't have any understanding why height and frontage, those requirements shouldn't be met, and any conformance with any other building in this area...600-square feet is the minimum requirement for a residential unit, so you're not going to get my vote for anything less than that. As for the rest of the project, this is a very, very difficult site, I understand that. This project is very troublesome to me. I have serious concerns about Park Street, vehicular operations, valet operations, pedestrian flow, the impact of the redesign of Park Street, which is intended to improve the pedestrian experience for those living on Park, and this seems to potentially do the exact opposite.”

Board member Robin Boyle concurred. “This is the most important site in southeast Michigan and this plan won't work,” he said. “It's all about the use of the ground floor determining everything, and it's not going to get through this board. If the applicant doesn't see it, then I don't think you're going to get this hotel built on this site. I'm going to say bluntly, I don't think this development is going to happen.”

The preliminary site plan was postponed until April 24.

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