More housing among items to win council approval

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More housing among items to win council approval

Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW and Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW

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Tuesday’s city council meeting saw one of the highest attendance levels this year, as the fates of two new living developments were decided. 

AN ADDITION TO ‘HOTEL CIRCLE’

Tuesday night, a proposal to turn a vacant office building off of Greensboro Avenue into an eight-bedroom riverfront boutique hotel was passed 5-1. This modern establishment will operate without a front desk staff and rely solely on technology for guests to check in and out. The target market is those attending University of Alabama events, such as football games, or community events at the Amphitheater or downtown. This renovation will cost an estimated $500,000 for both external and internal updates. The hotel will be Alabama-themed, with a crimson and grey exterior. 

One of the concerns that the new proposal tried to combat was the tight parking and driveway around the circumference of the hotel. There are only eight spots, with seven on the side and one in the rear, one of which is designated for handicap guests. 

District 7 councilwoman Sonya McKinstry also raised questions over the lack of rear lighting in the renderings of the hotel. The topography of the surrounding area hurts the chance for free-standing lighting, and the property sits on a tree-lined ravine. 

“By Alabama, for Alabama,” was the message that the applicant, Edwin Barden Smedberg, Jr. of Eutaw, Alabama, tried to persuade the council members with. He has already introduced three staff members that have worked for him in the past and said they are looking forward to the new project. 

The establishment is located in “hotel circle,” with close proximity to the already existing Hotel Indigo, Embassy Suites and Home2 Suites. While competition is always a factor for a new business, the growing need for places to stay on game weekends, parent weekends and move in and out weekends always leaves room for more temporary lodging in Tuscaloosa.

‘MEGA’ APARTMENT COMPLEX PASSES COUNCIL

After months of discussion in the City Council, a resolution that would allow TTL, Inc. to construct a massive new apartment complex on Rice Mine Road passed by a vote of 4-2.

The Highland Park development will see a four-story apartment complex with an estimated 183 units be constructed on a nearly 11-acre lot on Cedarbrook Drive off of Rice Mine Road. According to TTL, Inc., units will average 1,050 square feet per unit and cost, on average, around $1,350 per month, and are suited toward “families, young professionals and married couples of all ages.” 

Currently, the Reserve at North River, which is geared toward a similar market – including University of Alabama graduate students – is one of the only multi-family housing complexes in the North River area. But the prospect of another residential community on the already busy Rice Mine Road did not find much support among neighbors. Dozens of residents of the Gaineswood neighborhood came to the council meeting on Tuesday night to oppose the development, citing an already dangerous and overcrowded traffic situation on Rice Mine Road.

Specifically, residents pointed to a traffic study produced by TTL, Inc. which finds that all drivers on Rice Mine Road, not just those who would be exiting Highland Park, would be drastically affected by the increase in traffic. The intersection at Cedarbrook Drive and Rice Mine Road, according to the report, already sports a two-minute delay per vehicle (an F rating). After the construction of the apartment complex, TTL Inc. expects the delay time per vehicle to more than triple to nearly 7.5 minutes. 

“We are already using the turn lane to get out of our subdivisions when we have to cross over to the opposite lane, and people are passing in the lane,” Jan Kizziah, a member of the Gaineswood subdivision Homeowner’s Association, wrote in a flyer that was distributed on social media. “There are already 750 housing units approved but not yet built along Rice Mine, with hundreds of more acres that could become high-density units … If this is approved we are only looking at the beginning of poor planning for our area in that any type of development will be approved by this council.” 

The report does, however, request that the city make improvements to the rest of Rice Mine Road, and projects that, should the improvements be made, would not change delay times at other intersections in conjunction with the increased vehicle load. One intersection is projected to have its waiting time cut from more than two minutes down to just 18 seconds. 

“After all the hard work we have done to get these sales up [since the recession], now the McWright’s Ferry roadway project threatens to divert 9,000 of the current 18,000 cars a day off of Rice Mine Road and away from the retailers like me that rely on those customers to survive,” wrote McDonald’s owner Rick Hanna Jr. in a letter of support for the project. “When this project is finished, the businesses in that area are going to need as many customers as possible to survive.”

Traffic hasn’t been the only flashpoint for the development. One local resident, Sara Smith, who has resided in the property adjacent since 1972, wrote in support of the project.

“Although currently my property is not included in the proposed plans for this development, I would much rather have a well-planned, attractive apartment community as a neighbor rather than the dilapidated rental trailers that currently sit next door to me,” Smith said.  

Ultimately, after Council President Pro Tempore Cynthia Lee Almond requested the council vote no on the proposal, the vote passed 4-2. 

FUTURE REFERENCE

For future live coverage of city council meetings, follow @ZachJohnsonCW and @GraceSchepisCW on Twitter, or search #CityHallCW.