|By Jeffrey Pieters, Post-Bulletin,
Rochester, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Apr. 20, 2010--Less than what they wanted, but better than what they've got -- that's how Rochester's Kutzky Park neighbors seemed to view a hotel project proposed at a long-vacant corner at the U.S. 52 interchange with Second Street Southwest.
The city council approved the plans, for a four-story hotel, with nearby buildings for a restaurant and retail, at a meeting Monday. In a series of 6-1 votes, with council member Michael Wojcik voting "no," the council approved a preliminary plan, a design modification allowing the hotel to exceed the local height restriction, and variances for building setbacks and a driveway access.
Wojcik cited an "embarrassing overabundance of parking" on the site as one reason for his objection. In his view, he said, the property could have done with fewer than the 141 parking spaces outlined in the plan.
But overall, Wojcik said, "I'm pretty excited about the project. I think there's a lot of good things there."
Proposed by Rochester Lodging Group LLC, a South Dakota firm, the project includes a four-story Holiday Inn Express along the west side of the property, paralleling the highway. The hotel would have parking beneath it.
An 8,300-square-foot retail space would lie in the northeast corner of the property, and a 3,000-square-foot restaurant with an outdoor patio on the southeast corner.
Comprising practically all of the space between those three buildings would be a paved parking lot.
"It's pretty sparse," said Kelly Mueller, representing a group of neighbors. "It's going to be a pretty hot pavement."
She criticized the plans for a lack of landscaping. The proposal included a landscaping plan showing a tree-lined boundary, but inside the development there would be few trees.
"I'm sorry, Yaggy-Colby, this is a strip mall," Mueller said. "As a city, we expect more."
Some of Mueller's other objections to the project may yet be answered to her and neighbors' satisfaction.
The city will discuss with Rochester Public Utilities the possibility of burying an above-ground power line along 16th Avenue Southwest, and installing decorative streetlights rather than the city-standard fixture.
Those things, at least, would match the streetscape standards put in place at another nearby hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott, which neighbors said was developed with their interests in mind.
A majority on the council seemed to feel that the project designers already conceded enough to neighbors, meeting twice with the group and ultimately removing a proposed drive-through at the restaurant and shifting the hotel's indoor swimming pool to the southwest corner of the building, where it could be seen through windows from the street.
"This gets an undeveloped property that's been sitting for years ... and gets it back on the tax rolls," said council member Ed Hruska.
The property, immediately south of Miracle Mile Shopping Center, previously held two restaurants and a hotel before it was bulldozed in 2003 for the U.S. 52 reconstruction project.
Local developer Rick Penz bought the property and initially proposed a development neighbors all seemed to like. That development, named Shoppes on Second, ultimately collapsed over parking and space concerns.
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