Hotel details hammered out

Developer, advisory board discuss aesthetic issues

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS CITY — Developer PeakCM brought its plans for a new Hampton Inn on Lake Street to the St. Albans City Design Advisory Board (DAB) Monday night.  This is the first step in the permitting process for the proposed $11 million hotel, in which the city itself is investing $1 million.

The DAB is charged with advising the applicant and the Development Review Board (DRB) on the aesthetics of buildings in designated sections of the city. In this case, the hotel is planned for the city’s historic downtown district. It is the DRB which will issue a permit for the project.

An existing hotel, the Cadillac Motel, also brought plans for improvements before the DAB. Both were approved, but with recommendations for changes to the buildings.

The Hampton Inn will be a five–story building and the proposed design uses metal for the façade on the top three stories. Rather than being one large mass, the building does have an offset and slightly raised section to the east side of the center of the building. The brick on that section extends higher.

“There aren’t any large, massive wall spaces,” said Steven Roy of Weimann Lamphere Architects. “We’ve broken it up with windows.”

The DAB was short a member at last night’s meeting, but the four present all objected to the amount of metal on the building.

Roy noted that metal is a more cost effective material than the alternatives, both cheaper to install and more durable. “It takes on some of that modern appeal that other projects have had as well,” he said, likely referring to the new state office building on Federal Street, which contains metal panels.

Earlier designs were all brick, but the cost was prohibitive, he added.

DAB member Evan Champagne recommended they increase the amount of brick on the façade and change from a corrugated to a flat metal panel on the exterior. “That looks like metal siding, which is clearly not recommended,” he said. The city has a set of written design recommendations for the downtown, which the board uses in its evaluations.

The precedent for using metal panels in the historic district is that they are up high and a secondary material, he observed. “Here, it’s a primary material,” said Champagne.

Roy said the building would be similar to the Hilton Garden Inn in Chittenden County.

“That’s not an aesthetic that fits with a historic downtown,” said Champagne. “We don’t want that.”

The DAB also objected to an 18-by 3-foot sign planned for the side of the building. The sign, in blue and red, would come off the corner, with one panel facing Main Street and another facing Lake.

The purpose is to make the building visible from Main Street for people who are looking for the hotel, explained Roy.

Typically, the signs are lit from within, but because of the city’s sign regulations, the sign will have halo lighting, which gives each letter a “halo” of light instead of making the letter itself glow, according to Roy.

In response to the board’s objections, Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development, said, “A lot of our rules don’t anticipate how a hotel needs to work, especially from the point of view of a visitor. To a certain extent, you’ve got to let it look like a hotel.”

DAB member Karen Peltier replied, “That’s true.” However, she added the sign was “overkill,” noting it is nearly two stories long.

“I’m open to new things,” she said. “But it’s a historic district.”

“There’s not a lot of lit up signage downtown… so it’s going to be seen,” noted Champagne.

“It’s not that big a town. People will find it,” observed DAB chair Katy Collin.

In the end the board gave qualified approval to the project, recommending the brick in the façade be increased, the metal changed to a flat rather than corrugated style, and the signs coming off the corner of the building be reduced from two to one, and minimized in size.

Cadillac Motel

The board had fewer recommendations for the Cadillac, which is outside the historic district, but is in the gateway district at the entrance to the city. Those areas where visitors enter the city are also subject to design review.

Owners Armand and Bonnie Turner are proposing to build two new buildings and renovate two others. The plan would reduce the 56-room hotel to just 20 rooms.

Fourteen existing rooms would be changed into seven extended stay rooms, which will have a 28-day limit on rental. All of those units are in a building on the southern edge of the property.

Anther building, known as “The Hill,” would change from 20 hotel rooms to apartments the owners hope to sell as condos.

The only building remaining overnight hotel rooms is the 20-room main building. Rooms there rent for $99 a night, according to Bonnie Turner, adding that the Turners made significant improvements to those rooms when they purchased the hotel five years ago.

A new building on the far north edge of the property would have seven apartments. “We’re actually going to try to hit the affordable market and sell them as condos,” said Armand Turner.

“I think I can build a nice unit. They’ll be nice and stylish and people can afford them,” he added later.

A second new building would be added at the southwesterly corner of the property with 12 apartments or condos.

The plan includes improvements to stormwater, landscaping and lighting.

Large expanses of impervious surface will be removed, a swale and a stormwater treatment area will be added to the 3.5-acre property, explained engineer Chad Branon of Fieldstone Land Consultants.

The treatment area is where the swimming pool used to be. It will be an infiltration area and will appear as lawn.

Champagne recommended they add additional plantings to the infiltration area, particularly plants used for stormwater management.

He also proposed some changes to the front façade of the new southwesterly building, such as additional trim around a cluster of windows in the center. Peltier recommended increasing the size of the roof over the main entrance to make it more of a feature.

With those recommendations, the DAB sent the project on to the Development Review Board.