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Rendering of new downtown boutique hotel on Walnut Street.

Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Vision Hospitality Group, unveiled to planning commissioners on Monday some details about the five-story, 90-room boutique hotel he's proposed to build near Chattanooga's bustling riverfront.

The hotel is slated to sit on nearly an acre wedge of land between Walnut Street, Riverfront Parkway and E. Aquarium Way.

The land is currently zoned R-4 Special, which allows for a variety of uses. Patel has asked that the land be rezoned C-3 (a high-density, multi-use zoning) to avoid deep property edge setbacks, which are not the norm on neighboring properties.

A hotel proposal made by Patel for the same property two years ago met resistance from neighboring residents, who had concerns about parking.

So Patel went back and added a two-story parking garage, which will accommodate 115 vehicles. All hotel customers and employees will receive valet parking, as well.

The developers are also talking with the city about adding pedestrian access to the small, nearby parking lot off Riverfront Parkway. That lot would add an additional 25 to 30 parking spaces, said project architect Greg Peavy.

Patel reiterated Monday that the boutique hotel will remain independent and locally-owned, with a heavy Chattanooga flavor. He said when finished sometime in 2016, it will be a "higher-end" hotel that "tells the Chattanooga story."

The ground floor of the hotel will house a small market and cafe, as well as a high-end restaurant and small art gallery. A small spa is also still on the table.

On the hotel property now is a two-story, vacant office building and accompanying parking lot.

Walnut Street, which shoots off Georgia Avenue and heads north away from the Dome Building, comes to a clumsy end where Patel's hotel is expected to sit. The street turns into the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge going north, and pedestrian-only paths extend to the east and west.

Vehicle traffic and confusion sometimes results from the de facto cul-de-sac Walnut Street becomes, said Patel, so the hotel's designers have proposed a functioning vehicle turn-around circle, with added pedestrian- and bike-friendly walkways and a small park-like green space.

Patel removed two Walnut Street curb cuts from the original hotel plan and has proposed that all service vehicle traffic come from Riverfront Parkway. He also said the current site plan preserves a 100-year-old Oak tree on the property.

Helen Burns Sharp, community activist, resident of the area and president of the central city residential group Downtown Owners Collective, more or less signed off on the project at Monday's meeting, with a few caveats.

She said the hotel would be beneficial for the neighborhood and downtown, but she questioned the use of C-3 zoning to do so.

"It's scary for Walnut Street," she said, since the zoning is tied to the land, not the developer. The C-3 zoning doesn't require adequate parking, said Sharp, so if Patel doesn't wind up building his hotel and the property changes hands, there could be trouble for residents.

Sharp said recent developments like the Hunter Museum expansion and construction of apartments along E. Aquarium Way exacerbated parking and traffic woes for folks living in the neighborhood.

But Sharp said "there's so much about the site plan that we like very much," and she endorsed the project, even though when built the hotel will block her view of the Bluff View Art District and sun rise over Missionary Ridge.

Planning commissioners also put their stamp of approval on the project, voting all in favor of sending the project to city leaders, who will have the final say. They kept the C-3 zoning on the property.

Don Moon, planning commissioner and Walnut Street resident, finished the hotel discussion with praise for Patel, the proposed hotel and the way the project has progressed since its reintroduction.

"Mr. Patel is a good developer with a good track record downtown," Moon said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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