Developer GrayStreet Partners on Wednesday withdrew its request for conceptual approval of a 20-story hotel and office tower from the Historic and Design Review Commission when it became apparent that the local firm’s design would be rejected by most commissioners.
“The fatal flaw was the fact that the rendering didn’t line up with the request as made,” HDRC Vice Chair John Bustamante told the Rivard Report after the vote. At least three commissioners noted during the meeting that renderings submitted in GrayStreet’s application depicted a building with 17 or 18 stories – not 20 – on the northwest corner of Broadway Street and Newell Avenue.
“[GrayStreet] has the opportunity to come back with the application in a little bit better shape. I anticipate they will do so,” Bustamante said.
Commissioners were generally receptive to the design and height of the building, even though the 260-foot tower would be double what is allowed by the City’s development code in that area of town. GrayStreet would ultimately need approval from the Board of Adjustments to exceed the 10-story maximum.
Some commissioners took issue with the glassy materials proposed for much of the exterior and the pedestrian-level design.
“We’ll keep working on it,” GrayStreet Development Director Peter French said after the meeting. “It was good feedback. We’ll take it into consideration and keep moving.”
There would be 10 levels of hospitality space as well as underground parking and street-level retail in the building, which lies within the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) 2 district, where development and design is more strictly regulated.
Code for the RIO-2 district, made up of small single-family neighborhoods surrounded by higher-density and commercial structures, including the Pearl, requires that structures do not exceed 10 stories or 120 feet, according to the Unified Development Code. “Glass curtain” walls, such as the ones GrayStreet proposed, are allowed only as “secondary” material in RIO-2. That kind of design is more so allowed in RIO-3, downtown proper.
Commissioners generally felt the height was appropriate, especially given the project’s close proximity to the interchange of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 281, suggesting it could act as a gateway to the Broadway corridor from downtown.
But local architect Jonathan Card, who said he lives a 10-minute walk from the site, voiced concerns over the “compatibility” of the building with others in the area.
He showed a drawing comparing the height of the GrayStreet hotel property with others in the area, including Silver Ventures’ two office buildings currently under construction one block north on Broadway Street: one will be 10 and the other six stories tall. Card has worked with both GrayStreet and Silver Ventures, which developed the Pearl, but is not currently.
“I’m not sure why we need 260 feet to accomplish the project. It sets a bad precedent in relation to RIO-2. This is not downtown,” Card said. “It’s an attractive building, but … glass towers in isolation create huge issues for neighbors, not because they are bad designs but because they stand in isolation.”
According to the code for RIO-2, “In general, materials and finishes that provide a sense of human scale, reduce the perceived mass of a building and appear to blend with the natural setting of the river shall be used, especially on major structures.”
French said Broadway is a significant arterial roadway that deserves significant buildings.
“We engaged a world-class design team for this world-class site,” he said of the Gensler architectural firm. “It’s not monolithic, it doesn’t cover the entire block. We’ve been very intentional about designing something that has a shape.”
The concepts presented for review state: “The building is a combination of brick and glazing at the office levels, and a glass curtain wall for the hotel floors. Ceiling heights for the retail ground floor are 18 feet, and 18 feet for the office floors. The hotel floors have 10-foot ceilings. An amenity deck with outdoor terrace and pool will sit on the building’s 9th floor facing southeast.”
When initially submitted for review, the City’s only recommended changes to the conceptual plans included reducing the impact on pedestrians by improving landscaping and pedestrian walkways, and changing the proposed building cap to feature a more distinctive design.
French addressed those concerns, as well as questions about how traffic patterns would be affected, to the commissioner’s satisfaction.
After some discussion, commissioners agreed that it was too early to approve the concepts. At that point, French withdrew the request.
Conceptual approval by HDRC is approval of the “concept” of a project, giving commissioners the opportunity to provide the applicant with feedback about the design and scope of a project prior to completion of the construction documents and significant investment.
Final approval of an application requires that 80 percent of construction documentation be completed for review by HDRC before a Certificate of Appropriateness can be issued.
By choosing the option to withdraw the request, GrayStreet gains more time to develop designs before resubmitting for conceptual approval.
Business Reporter Shari Biediger contributed to this article.