The city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment on Monday approved use and height variances for Image Hotels and architect Stephen Overcash to allow a six-story, 140-room boutique hotel at 166 South Royal Street, the location of the former Rousso’s building in Fort Conde Village.
Board Chairman William Guess and Jeremy Milling cast the only dissenting votes.
The application had been recommended for denial by planning staff because there was no hardship present, which is required for approval by the adjustment board. Yet the board approved it despite plans calling for a total of six floors and 120 more rooms than are allowed by the Village’s form-based code. The application was sent directly to the board.
Gavin Bender, of Bender Realty, argued there was a hardship, given discovery of plans to open up access to the Mobile River by removing Interstate 10 on-ramps in the area. Bender said despite rumors to the contrary, as early as six months ago no plans for the Alabama Department of Transportation project existed. With the new information, Bender said the hotel will fit in with the downtown area and would be adjacent to GulfQuest National Maritime Museum, the Alabama Cruise Terminal and the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center.
“The hotel is very much in character of the neighborhood,” Bender said. “All adjoining neighbors have expressed support for the development.”
Milling said that while he thought the development would be exciting for downtown, he was concerned about how the hotel would fit in with the neighborhood, given all the other buildings are two stories. Milling said he didn’t think this application was appropriate to be one of the first variances to form-based code zoning.
I’m not saying it’s not appropriate,” he said. “It’s maybe not appropriate for right out of the gate.”
For those concerned about the difference in height compared to other Fort Conde Village buildings, Bender said the low ceilings used in hotel design would prevent it from being a lot taller than the structures already in the area.
Bender said the hotel design will feature a brick and stucco exterior and will include a rooftop balcony to allow guests to view the river. The hotel will also offer outdoor seating and dining, along the sidewalk, according to Bender.
The Greer’s store at the intersection of Broad and Government streets will be allowed to keep both the murals on its storefront, despite not first seeking a variance for them.
Co-owners Jack and Robert Greer told board members the murals helped give life to the downtown corner that desperately needed it.
“When the store became available that was our chance to put something downtown,” Jack Greer said. “Our vision for that corner was to create something very pleasing … very uplifting.”
The board voted unanimously to provide the necessary variances to allow the murals and a painted sign on the front of the store.
The store already had a mural depicting Greer’s history on the side, which is allowed in the Downtown Development District. However, when artist Devlin Wilson began painting historic Greer’s scenes and a sign, featuring oak trees and azaleas on the front of the building, a variance was required.
Jack Greer said the store owners have only heard positive reaction to the murals, one of which is unfinished.
Board members were concerned the murals possessed advertisements of products, but Wilson said the art only showed a Coca-Cola sign visible from one of the painted storefronts on the side of the building and the name of a flour company that’s no longer in business.
During the meeting, Wilson and the Greers all told the board they were unaware of a variance needed for the murals.
In other business
By a vote of 6-0, the board denied a height variance to allow a 152-foot Cellular South tower on the Ladd-Peebles Stadium property. At issue for board member John Burroughs was the height of the proposed tower. At 152 feet, Burroughs said the variance was asking for several times the 45-foot allowable height.
Brooks Milling, an attorney for Cellular South Real Estate, said the tower could only be located within a quarter-mile of the chosen location, in order to help cover a gap in service. In addition, Brooks Milling said the tower would not be a large structure, especially next to the stadium.
Guess discussed the possibility of Cellular South using a tower that was more aesthetically pleasing for the community, like a flag pole design.
Brooks Milling said that wouldn’t allow as many companies to co-locate on the tower and Cellular South, or C-Spire, already had agreements in place allowing Verizon and AT&T to co-late there.
Jeremy Milling recused himself from the discussion and abstained from the vote on the cell tower.
The board voted to holdover a request by Alabama Hotels, LLC to allow three lighted signs and a plaque at the Admiral Semmes Hotel.