July 17, 2008

Central Newsmagazine Article - "Residents, Clayton officials clash over hotel, garage project"

Residents, Clayton officials clash over hotel, garage project
By Benjamin Israel
July 16, 2008

The Clayton Board of Aldermen gave a unanimous go-ahead to RJ York Development to build a project that will put a 23-story hotel on the southwest corner of North Central and Maryland avenues where three buildings, none taller than five stories now stand and a parking garage standing three stories above ground across Maryland.

The vote came July 8, after weeks of crowded and contentious hearings and debates before the board and the Plan Commission. Much of the debate centered on two parking lots on the other side of Maryland where York plans to build a multi-level parking garage fronted with retail shops lining Maryland.

To make the project possible, the board had to rezone two parking lots now zoned residential commercial. The lots border on the Old Town Clayton area of large homes and luxury low-rise condominiums.

While many Old Town residents said they feared increased traffic and the encroachment of commercial zoning into land formerly zoned residential - 86 signed a petition against it - some supported the development.

One opponent, Mel Disney, a board member of the Old Town Clayton Neighborhood Association, said in an interview that Clayton should not rezone any residential lots commercial because he believes that it would upset Clayton’s delicate balance of residential and commercial property.

“Any time we take away a residential lot, you are changing the quality of life,” Disney said.

“I think it is going to be a great project,” Cheryl Verde, president of the Old Town Clayton Neighborhood Association, said in an interview. “The parking garage design is very attractive.”

Renderings show a garage that looks more like a brick building than a garage.

The garage exterior consists of limestone panels, with openings facing Central designed to look like windows and brick veneer facing the homes on the north.

The zoning-change ordinance the board passed calls for the lots to revert to residential zoning if the project does not come through.

Old Town Clayton extends from Brentwood Boulevard to Jackson Avenue and from Forsyth Boulevard north to the city line. Driving north on North Central from Maryland, the street narrows as it passes between two brick pillars topped by slabs of concrete with “Old Town” carved in capital letters. A grassy median runs down the middle of the residential portion of the street.

Approaching the pillars, the Mid-County Branch of the St. Louis County Library sits on the right and three surface parking lots on the left. RJ York Development plans to build six levels of parking on those lots fronted on Maryland by a row of shops, according to the developer’s plans. Three levels would be below ground. The three entrances on Central would be replaced by one.

One of the lots is already zoned commercial.

The hotel would displace the three buildings on the west side of North Central between Maryland and the alley to the south: a five-story office building with Il Vicino restaurant and an Edward Jones brokerage office on the ground floor, a two-story building with San Sai Japanese Grill, Busy Bee Alterations and Shoe Repair, Zuzu’s Handmade Mexican Food, one empty storefront formerly the site of the Smoothie King, the Clayton Barber Shop and offices on the floor above, and a one-story building housing only the Clayton Gallery and Tomsich Framing.

The nine-story Graybar Building occupies the west half of the block along Maryland, and is not part of the development. The shops south of the alley on Central will remain as well.

RJ York is working with the current retail tenants of the buildings and hopes to relocate some of them to the new building across Maryland, said Clayton Planning Director Catherine Powers. The developer’s renderings show San Sai and Il Vicino occupying two of the storefronts there. Robert Kramer did not respond to an email asking about the storefronts.

Plans call for the garage building to go up first.

The hotel would have more than 200 rooms plus 30 to 40 residential condominiums and include some upscale shops as well, according to city documents.

In the lead-up to the aldermen’s vote, Clayton residents debated whether their city needs another hotel.

In an interview, Old Town resident Rick Maier said there are too many hotel rooms in Clayton already, and he expects this one will have trouble filling its rooms.

Mayor Linda Goldstein defended the rezoning as “long overdue. Those parking lots have had non-conforming uses as long as anyone can remember,” she said.

Alderman Alex Berger, Ward 3, who represents Old Town Clayton, said, “The lots are not changing due to rezoning,” noting that they are already used for parking. He added that negotiations resulted in some green space planned as a 28-foot buffer between the garage and homes.

July 9, 2008

Post Dispatch Article - "Clayton OKs hotel and garage project"

Clayton OKs hotel and garage project
By Margaret Gillerman
Wednesday, Jul. 09 2008

CLAYTON — Twenty years after city officials scuttled a plan for a hotel and parking garage at Maryland and Central avenues, aldermen Tuesday gave a developer their unanimous support for a similar project at the same spot.

Clayton aldermen and Mayor Linda Goldstein said they were doing what they believed was best for the city by approving the Central Maryland Hotel project and parking garage.

The board's decision followed months of opposition from residents of Old Town Clayton and from Graybar Electric, a corporation based immediately west of the proposed hotel.

Before the vote, Goldstein said that the project had "created quite a lot of emotion among neighbors ... and talk in the community at large."

She told the plan's opponents: "All of us care deeply about the community" and "we can respect each other's opinions. In my mind, I think this rezoning is long overdue."

Alderman Steve Lichtenfeld, who represents the ward, said: "This location is probably the most critical in our entire city where the residential and business communities come together."

Alderman Alex Berger, also from Ward 3, said that the project had been modified to try to accommodate critics' concerns.

The $110 million proposal by R. J. York Development includes a 23-story, 225-room hotel tower, with 40 luxury condominiums and shops, and a parking garage with shops at Maryland and Central avenues. The development, designed by Core 10 Architecture, straddles both sides of Maryland west of Central.

Many neighbors in Old Town Clayton who had packed earlier hearings showed up for another standing-room-only meeting Tuesday. They also submitted more petitions in opposition to the project.

Neighbors have said the project would result in excessive traffic, blocked sunlight, impaired safety and allow commercial zoning to encroach into their residential neighborhood.

Some residents and business people spoke in favor of the project and said downtown Clayton needed more parking.

Lawyer Jeffrey Michelman said the city needed a "beautiful hotel" for business people that would exemplify "how terrific Clayton is."

Steve Shapiro said many Clayton residents outside Old Town liked the project. "Graybar has nerve to be going against a high-rise when Graybar is a high-rise," he said. "The parking is horrible here."