Neighbors question hotel plan near Walnut Street Bridge

Neighbors question hotel plan near Walnut Street Bridge

August 28th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

A Chattanooga hotel developer is considering building a boutique hotel on a site near the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge, but the idea drew lots of questions at a neighborhood meeting Monday night.

"We understand how special it is," said Andrew Hibbard of Vision Hospitality Group about the tract at Aquarium Way and Walnut Street, within a short distance of the bridge.

Mitch Patel, Vision's chief executive, has said that preliminary plans call for the hotel to be 90 rooms or less, six stories in height and have an art theme.

"It's not that big," said Patel. "It would be small, intimate."

But he said his company wouldn't go through with the project if there's a lot of neighborhood opposition. Also, the company would have to get the site rezoned to accommodate a hotel, Patel said.

"The first step is to see if the site works," he said.

Earlier this year, Vision withdrew a proposal that had in paperwork identified a Fairfield Inn by Marriott on the site.

Helen Burns Sharp, who lives in the area, said she'd like to see more specific plans before the company submitted a rezoning proposal to the city.

She said a change to a commercial zone would be more intense and have much more impact on the neighborhood than the current zoning that allows residential, office and limited commercial uses.

The site now houses a vacant building previously used for dental offices.

Sharp said an Urban General Commercial District zoning change would be a more appropriate commercial zone in the location. Such a zoning would allow for the hotel use but would limit the maximum height to 40 feet. It could permit a building to go higher if there was a specific request, she said.

Others of the more than 60 people who took part in the meeting raised questions about traffic, parking and the building's height.

Area resident Carolyn Funderburk mentioned the potential of increased vehicle traffic.

"This is a concern to us," she said. Vision officials said the hotel would have valet parking in addition to on-site spaces.

Jelena Butler, a Realtor representing the property owner trying to sell the site to Vision Hospitality, said there has been discussion about closing the section of Walnut in front of the hotel.

Another resident, Kris Graham, asked if Vision had ever built a boutique hotel.

Hibbard said the hotel group, which recently built the Hampton Inn & Suites at Fourth and Chestnut streets, has not built a boutique property. But he said the proposed lodging would be a quality product.

Concern was also raised about noise from a proposed restaurant in the hotel.

Hibbard said the restaurant owner would be local, and he didn't think noise would be a big problem.

He said early plans call for possibly submitting a proposal to planners this fall.