WHEELING - The Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday granted Hampton Inn permission to build two additional floors on its existing five-story hotel in the Woodsdale area.
The addition is part of an overall $5-$6 million planned expansion that would add 26 guest rooms and suites, about 35 parking spaces, a new rear entrance and an outdoor recreation area for hotel guests.
Hotel owner Robert Hitchman sees the project as vital to his business's future, but residents of nearby Corliss Avenue view the expansion as an encroachment on their lifestyle. The proposal would require the relocation of Corliss Terrace Road - the lone access point to the private drive and its six homes and an apartment building on the hill overlooking the Hampton Inn.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Robert Hitchman, owner of the Hampton Inn in Wheeling, discusses his plan to expand the hotel Thursday before the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Thursday's vote in favor of granting a variance allowing Hampton Inn to exceed the usual three-story height limit in a C-2 General Commercial zone was unanimous.
As competition has surged over the past year with several hotels opening in the area in response to the local oil and gas boom, Hitchman believes his franchise agreement with parent company Hilton could be in jeopardy if he can't update his building, despite the hotel recently being rated second out of 2,000 Hampton Inns worldwide by guests.
Rick Foose of Kayafas Architects said this is the first plan among five they've submitted to Hilton that meets the company's standards.
"We've exhausted all other alternatives to enhance this building," Foose said.
Five neighborhood residents, including four who live on Corliss Avenue and another who resides in a condominium on Park Road, spoke against the request, though most of their concerns were primarily with the relocation of Corliss Terrace Road, rather than the building's height. They are also worried about traffic issues and lighted parking areas in full view of their homes.
Corliss Avenue resident Doug Huff termed the past relationship between Hampton Inn and its neighbors on the terrace above as "cordial." But the hotel's 2010 addition of a new aquatic center and subsequent purchase of vacant lots across Corliss Terrace Road and relocation of its garbage dumpsters and maintenance shed there has soured that relationship, he said.
"Now comes this expansion plan, and we feel it's a give-an-inch, take-a-mile situation," Huff said. "This proposal negatively affects our lifestyle, our privacy and our health and safety."
Also, a pending lawsuit between Hampton Inn and Corliss Avenue property owners alleges damage to hotel property resulting from a poorly maintained drainage system on the private drive.
Huff's wife, Jean, told board members she believes the relocated road, which would curve to the left and turn sharply to the right as it approaches the graded entrance to Corliss Avenue, would slow response time for emergency vehicles and make the road unsafe to travel in snowy and icy conditions.
Board members David Ellwood, Sherry Sligar, Ronald Sinclair and Steve Johnston voted to grant the variance. Chairman Martin Sheehan was absent.
Ellwood said most of the concerns expressed Tuesday weren't related to the variance request before the BZA, but are matters to be addressed by the city Planning Commission, which is set to review and vote on the hotel's site plan during a 5 p.m. meeting Monday at the City-County Building. He said he has full confidence commission members would consider the residents' concerns.
City Council also would have to approve a lane abandonment allowing the relocation of Corliss Terrace Road, according to Tom Connelly, assistant director of Wheeling's Economic and Community Development Department. He noted the fire department would be involved in that process to ensure adequate access for emergency vehicles.