|By Jacque Hilburn, Tyler Morning
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 22, 2006 - A contingency of frustrated homeowners crowded into the Tyler City Council chambers Wednesday to protest the proposed construction of a three-story Hilton Hotel next to their subdivision.
Elected leaders agreed the initial plan left much to be desired. They ultimately voted to table the item -- without specifying a timeframe -- after the developer submitted a last-minute alternative, calling for professional office space in lieu of space for overnight guests.
"I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done here," said District 6 Councilman Charles Alworth.
The targeted 6.25-acre tract of land is sandwiched between Sutherland Drive and East Texas Medical Center's 24-hour emergency center on South Broadway Avenue, across from the old section of Grande Boulevard.
It's zoned single-family residential, but applicant Kirit M. Patel is trying to have it changed to planned commercial development so he can build his hotel.
Wednesday's vote to delay the plan, however, may not fully resolve lingering concerns held by nearby homeowners, who said Patel has not attempted to work with the neighbors.
Resident Pam Holly, who lives immediately behind the site, said a late-night bulldozing of 20- and 25-foot trees under the cover of darkness did little to build her confidence. Equally distressing, she said, was the fact that the work was carried out without the city's knowledge or approval.
"Bulldozers were waking us up, using headlights to work," Ms. Holly said. "I didn't even know bulldozers had headlights."
Ginny Reinhardt, who lives adjacent to the tract, displayed photographs depicting what a hotel guest would view upon gazing out their window -- the interiors of households and fenced backyards.
"I don't think putting this off will make us happy," she said,
Retired educator Larry Meckley said council approval of the hotel would undermine the city's new Tyler 21 Comprehen-sive Plan. "The mayor's plan calls for relieving congestion, not making it worse -- this goes against what our framework is all about," Meckley said.
Other residents voiced concerns over 24-hour noise, activity, lights, crime, traffic and a lack of communication.
"There has been no neighborhood meeting, and I've never been contacted by any of these people," said homeowner Rick Reynolds. "This has been mishandled from the first day on."
On Wednesday, Patel, who has a contract on the property, appealed for understanding, citing a recent illness of a close family member as a contributing factor in the confusion.
"If anything has happened that was offending, I apologize for that," he said.
Patel said he's successfully developed three high-end hotels in Tyler in recent years without problems. The fourth, he acknowledged, hasn't gone smoothly, but he expressed a desire to work things out.
He said the trees were removed for a topographical study, and a silk fence was immediately constructed at the city's instruction to help counteract the effects of runoff.
After meeting with residents, he agreed to provide shield lighting, reduce the height of the building, and move the structure closer to Broadway.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes, I'm willing to work," he said. "I just don't see what else I can do."
Mayor Joey Seeber said Patel made a business decision that may not pay out exactly as expected.
"You put a contract on that (property) knowing it was R-1 (single family)," Seeber said. "It's a risk you took without having proper zoning. Despite your history of past projects, I have serious concerns about a hotel being on this site next to residents."
District 3 Councilman Derrick Choice said, "You need to look at a better way to communicating with them."
Patel said he assumed that the city and the design firm would smooth relations with the neighbors for him.
His remark prompted the mayor to respond, "You need to burn a little shoe leather."
Designer Mark Priestner said he had spoken with some homeowners, and had tried to address their concerns in a project revision submitted Tuesday.
The new design could both buffer noise from Broadway and slow activity in the area nearest to their homes, he said.
"Short of scrapping the project, we flipped the building to the far west property line," Priestner said. "To the east would be single-story office space only. This site only has access to Grande. From a land-use perspective, it's only suited for commercial."
Officials applauded the effort, but noted it won't solve all the issues.
"The problem is that it's last-minute," Seeber said. "Grande has been in place here for a long time, and it's not reasonable for someone to assume single-family homes would be built there. We know something will be built there, but the decision before the council is what is best for that location.
"I appreciate what you've done and what you're client is willing to do, but I think it's time to take a deep breath and pause," Seeber said. "We need to do it right and not rush."
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Copyright (c) 2006, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas
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