City and Oberlin College officials are hoping to resolve a parking dispute allowing the long-awaited Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center to open at or around April 1.
City officials say the college, which building the 100,000-square-foot hotel and convention center at the intersection of North Main and East College streets, has yet to submit a final site plan.
The plan for the approximately $32 million project was due in September 2014. The center is part of an approximately $250 million “Green Arts District” proposed for the entire block.
The holdup is due to the city rejecting 17 diagonal spaces on East College proposed by the college. The rejection is because city officials said they would hamper fire trucks’ access and water pump connections to the center violating the fire code. The city wants a 40-foot fire lane with no parking along East College in front of the center and seven parallel spaces nearby.
Acting City Manager Sal Talarico in a Saturday email to the News-Tribune said the city has offerred to add seven spaces by Shansi House, 58 East College St., and proposed redirecting Willard Court to line up with Eric Nord Way adding several more spaces. He said there are 16 spaces east of Willard Court on college property about 100 feet from the retail portion of the hotel that could also be used. Talarico said Monday that Law Director John Clark was told by Oberlin officials that a final plan will be submitted soon that includes seven proposed parallel spaces.
The dispute has frustrated city officials. In a March 2 email to Christopher Noble, who represents project developer Smart Hotels, Talarico said the city cannot waive the fire code. And Talarico said city code prohibits issuing an occupancy certificate until the final site plan is approved.
“We have asked several times (and) I will ask again, please provide a revised site plan that addresses all of the conditions of the planning commission approval which have been communicated to you (Oberlin College’s development team) on several occasions,” Talarico wrote. “The responsibility (for) any delays rests entirely with Oberlin College’s development team. The college can immediately rectify any delays in opening the hotel by simply submitting a revised site plan.”
Talarico said the developer must:
• Enter into an agreement with the city.
• Comply with city requirements including building permits, excavation, and public safety concerns.
• Submit a “final” site plan within 60 days of the approval.
Talarico was replying to a March 1 email from Noble requesting a commission hearing. Noble wrote that plans were submitted to the commission in January that complied with all city requirements.
He asked that the city issue an excavation permit for concrete pouring on North Main and East College allowing the four-story hotel to open. “Not doing so is likely to unnecessarily cause the Gateway project and the community economic driver of the hotel within to suffer significant economic damages,” Noble said.
Noble said in a phone interview Thursday that multiple final site plans had been submitted to the city. “They just don’t like the ones we submit,” he said. Noble said Monday that he was hopeful the center would open on time regardless of the dispute.
At Wednesday’s commission meeting, Talarico said the city wants to work with the college, but diagonal parking was out because it would restrict firefighter access. “It’s intended to save lives so it’s not a negotiable item,” he said.
Talarico was responding to frustration from commission chairman Matt Adelman who said eliminating parking would exacerbate problems for East College businesses.
A visibly frustrated Adelman said he understood the need for public safety, but wouldn’t have voted for approval in 2013 if it hadn’t included parking in front of the center.
Adelman said he voted for a site plan that didn’t include parking to “appease” former fire chief Dennis Kirin who retired in June. He said city officials told him that after Kirin left, diagonal parking in front of the center would be permitted.
“It wasn’t told in these meetings. It was told in the planning office,” he said. “Now it’s later and we’re being told that this very important, very expensive development, that has really critcal parking in front of it isn’t going to be allowed. It’s disturbing, at the very least, for me, to see it happen that way.”
Carrie Handy, city planning and development director, said what was approved in 2013 was only the building exterior design and location. That didn’t satisfy Adelman, who left the meeting immediately after discussing the project.
Adelman said a lack of downtown parking has led to at least two businesses closing near the center. He said commissioners fought hard to have diagonal parking at the site.
“To have it taken away after we gave them approval, honestly, it seems sneaky,” Adelman said. “I don’t understand why we were given something to approve that couldn’t happen.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune The Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center is still under construction and may well miss its intended April 1 opening date as Oberlin College and city officials struggle with old parking issues.