Hotel on Hunter House site gets preliminary okay

May 24, 2019

The Maple, a five-story hotel building proposed for three parcels at Maple, Woodward and Hamilton roads, which would front onto Park Street in Birmingham, received unanimous approval from the city's planning board at their meeting on Wednesday, May 22, although conditions and concerns remain from board members as the owner and architect move forward to final site plan.

After previously postponing presenting preliminary site plan for a new hotel for 35001 Woodward Avenue in both January and February, because of too many problems with the plan, including traffic and parking issues, planning director Jana Ecker presented a revised preliminary site plan that she said had more details and resolved many – although not all – of the concerns of board members.

The proposed building,  called The Maple, is to be developed by Hesham Gayar of Grand Blanc. It will 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.

The revised plan features a first floor with retail spaces off of Hamilton, two banquet facilities, one on the first floor that can accommodate 80 guests, another considered a meeting room, on the mezzanine level, for 40 people. There will be three floors of hotel guest rooms, with the fifth floor residential long-stay rooms. The plan showed 17 units, each at 600 square feet with kitchens, meeting the city's requirement. Also per zoning ordinance, the fifth floor must be stepped back in, which Ecker said it now is.

She said there is also a rooftop design which includes mechanicals as well as a rooftop bar.

Board members questioned who the bar would be for, and architect Kevin Biddison said for hotel guests. “It's the kind of thing we would do for our guests,” he said.

However, Ecker explained that is not a permitted use in the city's overlay district. “You cannot have a commercial operation above residential,” she said.

To alleviate issues with parking, of which there are two levels underground with 80 spaces, and queues of valet, Biddison designed a drop off and holding area inside the first floor.

“We feel very comfortable we're getting it very close to making it work for day and night,” he said. “As for a building, I think we've brought everything into compliance and made adjustments.”

While some board members mostly liked what they saw, chairperson Scott Clein disagreed. “My only real concern – Park Street. You just have this corral of seven cars at the expense of pedestrians. I just can't get past it,” he said. “This plan is asking for the city to give up a considerable amount of pedestrian space for parking. We don't do that for anyone else. I'm not comfortable.

“From a final (site plan) perspective, I'm not comfortable with this layout,” he continued. “I need to know that you and the city's engineering department are doing what's right and not just what fits. I don't see a streetscape – it's how are we going to move these cars around, not what's best for Park Street.”

Clein still voted, along with the rest of the board, to approve the preliminary site plan, allowing the owner and architect to proceed forward on the plan towards final site plan approval.

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