Planning Board to Review Compass Hotel Plans Monday

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Site plans for the Compass Hotel, a sub-brand of Margaritaville Hotels and Resorts, will go before the town Planning Board for approval at 6:30 pm Monday, Sept. 30, in the old Beaufort Elementary School Cafeteria at 801 Mulberry St.

The Board will hold a public comment session at the beginning of the meeting.

Planning Board meetings are typically held at the Train Depot, which can accommodate a little more than 100 people; the move to a new venue is unusual for a regular, monthly town meeting.

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Town Planning Director Kyle Garner said the decision to move the meeting to the former elementary school was necessary considering the number of people who attempted to attend a Compass Hotel forum April 3 and were unable to get inside due to fire code restrictions.

The hotel, which has been the subject of two citizen-led protest campaigns regarding its height and the amount of parking spots it includes, is the first of four items up for discussion.

The Board will review the site plans for the Compass Hotel to ensure they meet all town ordinances. The board will not review design elements, as that is outside the board’s jurisdiction.

Additional, unrelated agenda items include three public hearings: two for rezoning requests on Lennoxville Rd. and one for a text amendment that would add micro-distillery operations under “Special Uses” in certain commercial districts.

View the Full Agenda packet with Compass site plans herebegins on page 15

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A Look at the Plans

The Compass Hotel will be built at 103, 113 and 115 Cedar Street with a satellite parking lot across the street at 208 Cedar Street, which is in the local historic district and subject to further regulation by the Historic Preservation Commission.

Part of the area shown on the plans is currently owned by the NC Dept. of Transportation as part of a 100-foot right of way for Cedar Street, formerly Highway 70. Beaufort Partners requested NCDOT to reduce the right of way to 60 feet, adding an additional 20 feet of space to each side of the road that can be used by the hotel.

DOT Division Engineer Preston Hunter said in a Sept. 3 letter to Beaufort Town Manager John Day that he saw no reason to retain the 100-foot right-of-way, and that the Right-of-Way Disposal Committee would take up the request in November.

The site plans show a 77,632 sq ft., 40-foot tall building with 101 guest rooms and 93 parking spaces on private property marked for hotel use. Some of those parking spots, plus another 15 spots intended for use by an existing marina, are across the street at 208 Cedar.

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According to the town’s Land Development Ordinance (LDO), buildings in the hotel’s zoning area cannot exceed 40 feet, and, in table 13-1 of the LDO, hotels must provide one parking space per room, plus five, or 106 total.

However, developments more than 25,000 sq. ft. fall under an exception: For all existing, proposed, or combination thereof of development which is twenty-five thousand square feet (25,000 sq. ft.) or more, there shall be a corresponding twenty percent (20%) decrease in the number of parking spaces required for this actual use (LDO 13-B-4).

With this exception, which was codified in 2013, the hotel must provide at least 85 parking spots – 101 rooms + five = 106 parking spots, minus 20 percent = 85 parking spots.

Twenty-four public parking spots are also shown on the plans. These spots will be added on Orange and Cedar streets – public property – after the town completes work on sub-street utilities in those areas. Garner said Beaufort Partners will pay for the paving and striping of these spots.

A Brief History

The Compass Hotel first came to public attention on March 14 when the developers, Beaufort Partners, LLC., pitched the project to the Beaufort Board of Commissioners. The plans shared at that time showed a structure that was 44 feet tall to the roof, and 57.5 feet tall to the top of the building’s cupola.

Buildings in the Business Waterfront district, where the hotel property is located, can be no more than 40 feet tall plus 10 feet of non-habitable rooftop elements, such as the cupola.

The building’s height became a point of contention in the community. Town resident Robert Harper lead a campaign in protest of the hotel’s ordinance-breaking height, making yard signs that said, simply, “40’.”

Dozens of 40’ signs showed up in yards around town, and, soon, a petition was being passed around. Some residents took issue with the building’s design as well, commenting that it was not very “Beaufort-like.”

The hum of discontent got louder and louder until the developers agreed to hold a design “charette” – the packed-out forum mentioned above – to make a presentation about the hotel and take comments from the public regarding the structure.

At this meeting, the plans still showed a 40-foot tall structure, but the design had been changed to incorporate more “Beaufort-like” elements.

More than 200 people attempted to attend the forum; about 90 got in. Of those 90 or so attendees, about half had to sit in an overflow room and were unable to hear most of the presentation due to technical issues with the sound system.

A feedback session followed the presentation. Attendees were split into groups lead by town staff and elected officials and worked together to share concerns and solutions about the building’s size and design.

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After the meeting, this reporter interviewed owner Joe Thomas, who said on video that it was possible to make the hotel comply with the 40-foot ordinance. No changes to the height were announced at the meeting.

Two weeks went by with no public comment about the forum from the developers. Then, on April 16, Joe Thomas and some of his representatives met with town staff and two commissioners and announced the building would only be 40 feet tall.

Things went quiet among the community at large until Harper, who started the 40’ campaign, noticed that the hotel’s updated plans did not show the 106 parking spots stated in table 13-1 of the LDO. It did, however, show public parking spots on Orange and Cedar streets – 24 of them.

Harper said it appeared that the developers were trying to rely on public parking to meet LDO requirements, and started another campaign with yard signs that proclaimed, “24 Stolen.”

“They were clearly showing, in their count, that these spaces were also going to be in there,” Harper said.

And Then Came September

At least two more versions of the site plans went back and forth between the town planning department and the developers over the summer, as they did not meet the requirements laid out in the LDO.

Earlier in September, the latest plan, the one going before the Planning Board Monday, landed on Planning Director Garner’s desk. This time, he concluded that these newest plans do meet requirements.

“Have there been a lot of moving parts in this? My answer is yes,” Garner said, adding that the town planning department has been working on the Compass project since October of 2018. “I think we have done a real thorough job of review.”

Still, the “24 Stolen” campaign lives on. When asked if his opinion on the matter has changed now that the parking discount has come to light, Harper said he felt that a church or restaurant could be allowed that privilege, but not a hotel.

“If it’s occupied with 101 rooms, there will be at least 101 cars,” Harper said. “They’re utilizing a loophole to skirt what they really need. They don’t have enough spots on their property.”

The Historic Preservation Commission will review a few dozen of those parking spots – those located at 208 Cedar St. – on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the Commission’s monthly meeting. Town staff have recommended that the Commission deny the application due to incomplete information.

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