Photo: The development team for the proposed hotel in Belmont: (from left, standing) Jennifer Conley, president of Conley Associates; Robert Levy, attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott; Waltham developer Michael Columba; and Andy Rojas, architect.
For the two dozen residents who attended the Monday, March 7 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeal anticipating a decision to approve a small hotel at the base of Belmont Hill, at least, they had to opportunity to view an impressive new art installation at the Belmont Gallery of Art where the board meetings take place.
For a second time in as many months, the ZBA voted to continue its hearing, postponing a final vote on the request by Waltham developer Michael Columba to secure five special permits to allow construction of a 19-unit “European-style boutique hotel” at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Pleasant Street at the location of the now vacant Mini-Mart convenience store.
But with public support the proposed development has received and the technical nature of the data the board is requesting, it’s beginning to appear that the first new hotel in several decades, if not a century, could be up and running in early 2017.
“I do feel good that this is a win, win with the town,” said Columba after the meeting.
“I understand the concerns of neighbors, and I take [those] personally. It is something I want to resolve,” he told the Belmontonian after the meeting.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the board asked Columba for additional technical information on issues such as sound measurements from the HVAC system, venting, and lighting, attempting to assure themselves that assumptions being made by the development team were accurate.
Former Selectman and the project’s architect Andy Rojas reiterated the projects highlights from his presentation last month: renovating the two-building, two-story structure at 334 Pleasant St. – the old Mini Mart convenience store and offices – to open a boutique hotel consisting of 18 guest rooms, a cafe for guests, a fitness room, a business center and management offices on the 14,400 sq.-ft. site.
The building’s exterior will not be altered – with the exception on new siding – significantly in an attempt to “express Belmont’s agrarian history.”
Rojas said the hotel would have less impact on local traffic than what can operate on the site “as right” (without needing any zoning change) including a retail store, and will generate tax revenue from lodging and meals “without having an impact on the schools.”
Colomba, who purchased the property last year, said he rented rooms “to a lot of people visiting Belmont” at his first hotel, the Crescent Suite Hotel in Waltham, whether it was for a funeral, graduation parties or visiting patients in hospitals and beliefs there is a demand for European-style lodging.
He said his experience showed the hotel will be three-quarters occupied with the majority of guests registering during the day and coming back to their rooms between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the latest.
Jennifer Conley, president of Conley Associates, a Boston-based transportation planning, and engineering firm, said a small hotel will generate around 160 total trips in the day with a maximum of 12 trips per hour during rush hours, much lower than the 35 trips per hour a convenience store would attract.
As he did in February, ZBA Chair Eric Smith again questioned the team just how a hotel fits within the town’s bylaws. Since there is no mention of hotels in the table of uses in the zoning documents, “so the closest … is apartments which are a prohibited use in [this zoning district],” said Smith.
Robert Levy, an attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott representing Columba, said his reading of the zoning bylaw and its parking requirements – which does briefly refers to hotel use – suggests the hotel would be more akin to a daycare center or a catering business, retail and service uses that are allowable at the site with a special permit.
For the most part, board members wanted to nail down several techical assumptions made by the developer, including just how noisy climate control systems will be running at the same time.
“Have everything written down,” requested Mariann Scali, a long-time resident.
If all goes to plan and the Board awards the special permits to Columba, work at the site will begin within weeks and will be completed in six to eight months.