A developer pulled the plug on a planned East Franklin Street hotel Wednesday in the face of opposition from residents and town advisory boards.
The six-story, 106-room hotel with 28 extended-stay apartments was planned for a vacant residential site at 1609 E. Franklin St. Developer HPW Properties asked the council to postpone the public hearing to Feb. 22, to allow time for addressing a list of traffic, noise, height and other concerns.
The town’s Planning Commission and Community Design Commission had recommended the council reject the hotel.
Coldwell Banker HPW owner Don Walston announced instead that the company would move forward with a two-story, 17,300-square-foot office project approved for the 1.8-acre site in 2009. That project had been sidelined by the economic recession and was replaced with the hotel plans in 2013.
A new zoning application was submitted for the hotel project in August, after a new state law ended citizens’ ability to file rezoning protest petitions. The hotel project’s neighbors had submitted a protest petition, which would have required seven of the nine council members to approve a rezoning.
“I see we’re not going to get anywhere on this particular issue. Let’s go back to the original plan where we build an office building,” Walston said. “I think in terms of getting the T’s cross and I’s dotted, we’ve got too many people who object to it, and I understand the position.”
Wednesday’s meeting confused both council and audience members, as the council struggled to decide when to hold the public hearing and the developers asked the council to tell them how to design the hotel.
The council must open the public hearing before commenting or asking questions, Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos reminded them.
Hold the public hearing now, Coker Hills resident Shauna Farmer and others said, particularly since the hotel plans have changed many times. They do not oppose the approved office building, Farmer said.
“If the applicant is allowed to change the application now, at this stage, the process and the opportunity for public input into any new changes is circumvented,” she said. “If the applicant’s proposed changes are not substantial, then the applicant should proceed in the normal process as described in town materials.”
Walston’s decision to pull the hotel plan cut short the hearing, prompting town staff to suggest wrapping up with a vote but no public comment. The public should still have the opportunity to speak, Mayor Pam Hemminger said.
“We need to let the public speak,” she said. “They’ve waited, they’ve been here.”
Residents said they were happy with the developer’s decision, but they also took one last opportunity to criticize the defunct hotel plan.
“It’s the adjacent, quiet, thoughtful businesses like Psychology Associates, the nursing home, the ballet studio and the homes on Velma (Street) that would really forever be impacted by (various construction and truck noises),” said Chris Krueger, a construction professional and project manager for the Durham Performing Arts Center.
“In the end, I’m left wondering how a hotel fits in there, and I’m worried about the traffic,” he said. “The traffic is already difficult to enter into on Franklin Street, from 1611 or 1609 (E. Franklin St.) and the construction traffic will tie that up even worse.”
The developer will return to the council in February after workign with town staff to identify changes since 2009 to local stormwater, lighting and other land-use rules. The team will have to figure out how to make the office building viable, said Chuck Walker, with Priest, Craven and Associates.
“Quite frankly, the site plan has been around since ‘09 with no takers, so we have to see if there’s anything in the marketplace we can do to stir that process,” he said.