|By Lynne Hendricks, The Daily News of
Newburyport, Mass.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 30, 2010--AMESBURY -- There's been much speculation about what kind of hotel might be erected on the corner of Route 110 and Elm Street, and finally residents are getting a glimpse of what it will look like.
Representatives for the owners of 282 to 284 Elm St. say they intend to build a 92-room hotel and a 9,600-square-foot retail outlet on the five-acre property.
The town has proven it's receptive to a hotel on the site, having already made zoning changes to allow additional stories and heights to encourage the hotel plan to move forward. The town is currently seeking assurances from the developer that a greener design replace the renderings that have been submitted to date. Both the Planning Board and Conservation Commission feel the high-profile, "gateway" location deserves as much.
"They do not want to see the standard complex with concrete and a few trees," according to minutes of that meeting, and the sentiments were echoed yesterday by Town Planner Nipun Jain.
True Homestead, a limited liability company owned by Herbert Sears of Exeter, N.H., owns one of the two parcels being eyed for the hotel and jointly owns with Fafard Development the second parcel slated for the retail building. Sears has retained the services of Fred Ford with Cammett Engineering to navigate the pre-application process. According to information submitted at a March 8 joint meeting of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission, Cammett and True Homestead are conducting this work on behalf of the Hampton Inn, which intends to build on the property if everything goes as planned.
"The project will be at the entrance to the city," said Jain, who attended the joint meeting and spoke of the concerns voiced by the Conservation Commission. "They wanted this project to become a landmark project. It shouldn't be just a building sitting within a parking lot."
The Conservation Commission wants to see design features that keep the current green space looking as green as possible, he said. Currently, the land is a mix of upland forested, wetlands and field area, located on the corner of Amesbury's primary road heading into downtown from Interstate 95.
"What they would like to see is pockets of green and the incorporation of new green design techniques that would soften the visual impact of the parking lot," Jain said. "The fact that this is a hotel -- it should be inviting."
The Conservation Commission has hired a landscaping design firm, Bartsch and Radner, to represent its interests.
Michael Radner described some of the features he's hoping the developers come back with.
"We're looking to maximize storm-water infiltration," said Radner, who urged developers to consider rain gardens, permeable pavers and parking lots designed to allow storm water to flow into landscape areas rather than into catch basins or pipes.
"Another thing would be to maximize the amount of shade you have in a parking lot by planting trees," he said. "The goal is to integrate tree planting into your parking lot design to shade the pavements. This reduces the urban heat island effect."
Radner said the town has also encouraged the developer to look at lighting, in keeping with the international dark sky regulations that seek to direct light away from neighboring properties and surrounding wildlife habitat. Radner declined to say whether the developer was of like mind when it comes to altering the preliminary design, which was described in the meeting minutes as a concrete building surrounded by a parking lot.
"I don't have a read on it yet," Radner said. "I'd like to give them the opportunity to really submit their plans before we judge them."
If the developers don't get creative with their design plan, the Conservation Commission has posed questions about the size of the building relative to the parcel size, as it maximizes building space at the site and even extends its parking lot into the 50-foot no-build zone laid out in the state's wetlands bylaw. Meeting minutes document that members of the Conservation Commission would not vote favorably for the project unless it incorporates some of the suggested green initiatives.
As an aside, the land in question is home to a family of beavers that have built a dam and changed the ecological balance of the land. Though it's always been wetlands, Radner said the depth of the water has increased as a result of the beavers, creating a picturesque scene that wasn't there 10 years ago. When asked whether the beavers were actively living on the property, Radner said there was evidence of that.
"We haven't observed any, but we believe they're still active," he said. "We've seen evidence that they're still on site."
Booting the beaver population off property may be another issue developers will have to deal with if they want to build a hotel on the Elm Street site. Beavers are notoriously industrious, and dams torn down are often quickly erected by new groups of beavers attracted to the area for the same reasons. Per Massachusetts law, it's illegal to remove a dam without a permit, and a number of conditions are placed on their being trapped.
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