Ann Arbor Planning Commission asks hotel developer to come up with more pedestrian-friendly plan
Akram Namou of A&M Hospitality and Executive Hospitality wants to build a 100-room Hampton Inn at 2910 Jackson Ave., adjacent to his 163-room Clarion Hotel.
"The building seems to be fine — I think most people don't have a problem with that," said Commissioner Diane Giannola. "But if there's a way to improve the walkability of the area, at least attempt to show us if there's another way — show us another alternative."
Commissioner Eric Mahler said it poses "an interesting challenge" to see if the developer can make the plan pedestrian-oriented rather than car-oriented, but he wouldn't mind seeing that.
As he was leaving city hall Tuesday night, Namou said the planning commissioners' comments were well taken and he'll see what he can do.
"They are fair comments," he said. "We definitely will make, as much as possible, some modifications to accommodate their concerns. It is a little expensive, but we will accommodate them — definitely we'll do anything for the safety of the pedestrians."
He added, "We have a big investment already in the project, and this project was approved and permits were taken out, so we are hoping to move forward very quickly."
The Ann Arbor City Council previously approved Namou's plans for the Hampton Inn in 2008, and some site work was completed before financing issues stalled the project. The site plan expired in 2012, and Namou is now back asking for approval of essentially the same project.
"It's the same project that was previously approved — it expired and now we reapplied," he said. "The city asked us for certain modifications, which we complied with, like additional landscaping and additional sidewalks, etc., so we complied with everything, and the staff approved the plans."
City documents show the four-story, 72,000-square-foot Hampton Inn would include a workout facility and an indoor pool. The building would be located on a previously constructed foundation.
Namou is requesting a planned project modification to increase the maximum front setback requirement of 50 feet to allow a 72.4-foot setback from the north property line fronting Interstate 94. When the foundation was poured in 2008, there was no maximum front setback requirement.
A landscape modification also is requested to provide required bio-retention in one large area south of the building.
Commissioner Bonnie Bona said she wasn't ready to support the hotel project as presented Tuesday night. She offered some constructive feedback to the developer.
"While the pedestrian and bicycle use may be minimal today, it's only going to get greater," she said. "And in order for your building to be viable as a location, I believe it needs to be more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly than it is."
Bona suggested the project engineer should draw up new plans starting with a focus on pedestrian access, and then fill in the parking afterward.
Between the two hotels, there would be 337 parking spaces, according to the proposed plan. The 8.8-acre site is located along the north side of Jackson next to I-94.
Bona said she knows sidewalks are expensive, but she suggested at the very least the developer could put a loop around the property so someone could walk or jog around it.
"It could be a nice path — that idea of an amenity for your patrons, even if they drive here in a car," she said. "Especially I think the conference people are the ones who are kind of stuck there for the day, and it would be a shame if all they had to do was walk through your parking lot."
A pedestrian crossing is proposed on Jackson Avenue from the Hampton Inn site to Hilltop Drive. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority plans to relocate a bus stop on eastbound Jackson to take advantage of the crossing, according to the plans.
Bona wanted to know how a pedestrian would get from either the property next door or from the bus stop into the main entrance of the hotel. She noted when she goes to a hotels, she often arrives by car, but then she wants to walk around on foot once she's there.
"I would even get out and go for a run — head across Jackson, and that neighborhood is really nice, would be very pleasant to run in," she said.
Following action by the Planning Commission, possibly in July, the project heads to the Ann Arbor City Council for final approval.
Namou told commissioners having a Hampton Inn next door to a Clarion Hotel will work — he believes the two hotels would complement each other perfectly.
"The Clarion is a full-service hotel, which has meeting space, banquets and restaurant, while the Hampton is what we call a limited-service hotel, strictly transient and corporate business," he said.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.