Lark Hotel accessory housing plan approved

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 5:15pm
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After many months of testimony and revised plans, the Town Council approved a proposal by Lark Hotels that would allow for accessory hotel rooms under a special use permit in the Old Harbor Commercial District.

The amendment was approved by 3-2 vote at the Town Council’s meeting on Monday, July 6. Councilors Chris Willi and Sven Risom voted against the application. Councilor Martha Ball, Second Warden André Boudreau, and First Warden Ken Lacoste voted in favor of the application.

Attorney Joe Priestley, representing Lark Hotels, started off the meeting with a synopsis and history of the application.

“The [New Shoreham] Comprehensive Plan encouraged hotels in the O.H.C.D., and that it was one of the principal uses in the existing O.H.C.D. We put together a proposal… that would have allowed hotels to be built with a special use permit in the O.H.C.D. We started out with a proposal of 20,000 square feet of land, went to 30,000 square feet, and finally ended up on 40,000 square feet of land in the O.H.C.D. By raising the size of the lot, we limited the possibility of further hotel development in the O.H.C.D.” said Priestley.

Lark Hotels owner Robert Blood also spoke on behalf of the project.

“Our interest is in developing more hotel rooms, even in this current time. We’re nearly 100 percent occupied for the month of July, and bordering on 90 percent occupied for the month of August. We believe, as we have on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, to extend the shoulder seasons and make it possible for other businesses… to create a greater economic impact on the community,” said Blood, adding the development of hotel rooms would not increase the impact of cars on the road, noting that his guests, on average, do not bring cars to the island.

Glenn Gardiner, an architect from Newport Collaborative Architects, explained Lark Hotels’ intentions on creating accessory hotel rooms to go along with the hotel.

“What we are interested in is trying to keep with [The New Shoreham] Comprehensive Plan, and provide an opportunity for a hotel — any new hotel — to have an option of looking at an accessory hotel concept. An idea of a cottage-type scale that is more consistent with the massing that you find on the island,” said Gardiner.

Gardiner went on to list three hypothetical site plans that had been included in the application.

“Example one: using the Gables’ site plan that exists now — that existing hotel has 14 suites. Example two: a continuous corridor within the building, [which] would require a block added to the structure… that would add to the larger massing of the structure. Example three: an alternative which would create more or less these cottage type style buildings, consistent with the existing Block Island massing of structures in that vicinity, and would also break down the scale to be more human and smaller in essence.”

Councilor Sven Risom addressed a question to Priestley, asking for confirmation that “none of these hypotheticals could be built [as of now]?”

“Under the current zoning, none of them could be built,” said Priestley.

“Right now, you can’t add to any hotels to expand room count,” asked Risom.

“That’s correct,” said Priestley.

Town Planner Alison Ring touched back on the Planning Board’s decisions in February on the Lark Hotels’ application, stating some members of the Planning Board who were in support of the application found the hotel development was appropriate in Old Harbor, where hotels and services are located, and could provide aesthetic improvements. Other members expressed concerns about increased traffic, noise, and with the style of the hotel developments.

Priestley went on to share an example on how the hotel developments and accessory hotel rooms could appear, comparing The 1661 Inn and the inn’s rooms on the property.

“The 1661 [Inn] would be a perfect example of what a hotel with accessory hotel rooms could look like,” said Priestley.

Councilor Martha Ball asked in clarification what the current standard is for a hotel lot size in the Old Harbor District.

“You require 40,000 square feet of land for an existing building to be turned into a hotel. To create a new hotel, 80,000 square feet of land. We would be going to 40,000 square feet, without regard to whether there is a building there or not,” said Priestley.

Risom asked Priestley “how many hotels are now possible” at 40,000 square feet in the downtown area.

“We have a sketch that shows three lots that will contain 40,000 square feet on which a hotel could be developed,” said Priestley. He mentioned a lot at the corner of Chapel Street and Old Town Road, the triangular lot that now serves as a parking area for the Hotel Manisses, and an existing lot located behind The Surf.

Lacoste made a motion to close the hearing and the vote was taken.