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Second Avenue hotels get height variance

Vote goes 3-2 for developer

After listening to residential neighbors who feared the loss of privacy and incompatible development, Durango city councilors voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve a height variance for a six-story complex of two hotels, a restaurant and parking garage on the East Second Avenue block from Fourth to Fifth streets.

Councilors Dick White, Christina Rinderle and Keith Brant were for the variance, but councilors Dean Brookie and Sweetie Marbury said they opposed the project’s height.

“Six-story-tall is too much for me,” Marbury said.

A resident of the area, Jon Westrup, said he resented the potential intrusion on private lives, saying hotel guests could be staring into the homes of East Third Avenue from their hotel windows, balconies and terraces.

“There’s bedtime stories here, people dressing and undressing. People have a right to privacy here,” Westrup said.

He compared the controversy to the ongoing debate over accessory dwellings.

“Imagine if the debate was not about accessory dwellings, but if your neighbor could build an accessory hotel or two in your backyard. It gets absurd,” Westrup said.

Michael Todt objected to the “sheer size.” The hotels would have a six-story facade, which includes lower-level parking.

“It’s really huge,” he said.

But city staff members felt it was the best deal considering the block already is zoned for commercial development and the developer is well within his rights to build a hotel there.

“We have nothing to say about it if they meet the guidelines, and that’s the problem,” Brookie said.

“The council has no latitude whatsoever,” City Attorney David Smith said.

Scott McCallister, the developer and owner of adjacent Best Western Rio Grande Inn, is trying to lessen the impact to the East Third Avenue neighborhood by putting the density of the new buildings along East Second Avenue.

The U-shape design would have terraces in the middle, which would face the alley between East Second and East Third avenues. Plus, there would be a cutout or open space between the two hotels on the northern and southern sides of the property.

City planners feared a worse configuration of buildings. By rights, McCallister could build a 35-foot wall of hotel rooms along the alley, said Nicol Killian, a city planner.

Brookie said another design could be “architectural Whack-A-Mole.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Brookie said.

To make his plan work, McCallister got approval to build up to 66 feet tall on a low-lying, southwestern corner of the block. The neighborhood has a 55-foot height limit.

This southern hotel would have 125 rooms. The northern hotel would be a boutique with 58 rooms. The city also agreed to give up some right of way on East Second Avenue and Fourth Street for the development.

To address concerns, the city also asked the developer to limit terrace hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Vegetation would be used to screen the terraces.

“I will control the environment,” said McCallister, who has 30 years of experience in the hotel experience.

Guests could go back to the restaurant during late hours, too.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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