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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Board of Adjustment postpones variance for Downtown Marriott project
Thursday, March 15, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
The fight to develop a 1,013-room Marriott Hotel on Congress Avenue between Second and Third streets isn’t over quite yet, with developers hitting another stumbling block at the Board of Adjustment Monday night.
Developers were asking the board for a variance that would allow them to reduce the required number of loading docks at the hotel to three, from the eight required by city code.
“We don’t need eight loading docks. Eight loading docks would be a waste of space and an aesthetic blight,” said Ambrust & Brown Attorney Richard Suttle. “We have done the calculations, and we believe that three is plenty.”
“You end up with empty docks and a blighted area, a bunch of docks, along Lance Armstrong Bikeway,” said Suttle, who told the board that the hotel was limited to loading on Third Street due to design standards and restrictive covenants.
White Lodging Services, the parent company of Marriott Hotels, moved to develop the lot nearly four years ago, displacing the Las Manitas restaurant and earning a lot of negative press in the process.
Eventually, a deal was struck between developers and the owners of Las Manitas, sisters Lidia and Cynthia Perez, who agreed to vacate the alley behind their property in 2007, only to close their doors a short time later.
The Perez sisters were present at the Board of Adjustment meeting, asking for a postponement in order to get more information on the case.
“My bottom-line concern is that this is not the photo that we were shown at the previous negotiations,” said Cynthia Perez. “Rather than the Marriott be the state-of-the art green hotel, it continues to … require variances… It doesn’t matter what you give him. He’s always going to want more.”
“If you could go anywhere now, within these two weeks, and see what is happening in every alley, in particular our alley on Third Street and Second that has been closed, it is a quagmire…This is a thousand room hotel that’s coming. There will be more. The bottleneck is going to come,” said Perez. “It’s just the nature of a lack of appropriate planning, I think, and people always trying to chisel down the deal.”
Council approved a waiver of $3.8 million in development fees in June 2011. Those fee waivers will expire if construction does not begin in August of this year. Suttle noted that the postponement would stop the design of the hotel.
“We’re trying to break ground on this, and get design stuff wrapped up before June, which is our agreement with the city,” said Suttle. “We had no idea they would have an issue with lessening loading dock space along Third Street.”
Suttle said his calculations were based on the mix of uses on the property and the expertise of Marriott executives. However, with no clear formula presented and no staff present to explain the city’s position, the board opted to postpone the case to their next meeting. They voted 5-1, with Board Member Will Schnier voting against. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne recused herself from the case.
“This gives you the chance to get with these folks here, who do have some opposition, and explain it to them… I don’t understand why someone would want to have more docks, but that’s not for me to make that call,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen, who noted the extra time would give developers time to meet with the Perez sisters, and that the postponement would also allow staff to explain to the board why the loading dock requirement was not reduced administratively.
Suttle said he would reach out to the neighbors “immediately.”
“I can understand you probably not needing eight. I think eight is probably excessive, just based on my experience. But to come all the way down to three, and how it may impact that alley, and other little areas, the other businesses adjacent to you, that I have concerns with,” said Von Ohlen.
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