BEAUFORT — Officials behind the Compass hotel proposed for the downtown area might have avoided a battle with residents after a decision to adhere to the town’s building height ordinance.
This is according to a joint press release put forth by Beaufort and project financier Joe Thomas of Beaufort Partners LLC. Town staff released the press release late last week.
“Based on the public input received, the development team reviewed the ideas and have decided to build a hotel within the existing zoning standards,” the release reads. “The building height will be 40 (feet).”
Town officials have not been made aware of the building’s new proposed height.
“They are planning to build under all current zoning regulations to include the 40’ foot height,” Public Information Officer Rachel Johnson wrote in an email. “At this time official plans have not been submitted.”
Hotel officials first presented their plans to open a Compass hotel at the corner of Beaufort’s Orange and Cedar streets to town commissioners at a March board retreat. Compass is a spinoff brand of the more popular Margaritaville Hotels.
Representative John Van Coutren and other project officials described the Compass brand as a compromise for communities interested in hotels smaller than typical Margaritaville facilities.
The smaller size was still too large for a number of town residents, however. During a design charette almost a month after project officials presented the tentative design to town commissioners, it was apparent the building’s height was a major point of concern for residents.
At the design charette, designers proposed a building that hovered around 45 feet with an additional 10 feet to accommodate a rooftop terrace and elevator.
Concerns about the proposed height ranged from interference of the nearby Michael J. Smith Field Airport to how a building of that height would change the aesthetics of the town.
At the design charette, project officials expressed their intention to solicit an amendment to the town’s ordinance to accommodate their desired height.
Town Planning and Inspections Director Kyle Garner explained the text amendment process, saying it requires paying for a public notice in print media, a public hearing before the planning board and a public hearing before town commissioners.
In the weeks following the design charette, designers decided to shave off the necessary feet to fall within the town limits.
Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton, in the press release, praised the designers for what he called transparency.
“This was not a requirement as the Town does not require a design review,” the press release reads.
Other officials praised designers’ efforts to reconcile design and town ordinances, as well.
“I am pleased Mr. Thomas and the Compass Hotel has chosen to stay with existing town ordinances,” Commissioner Ann Carter said. “They had indicated from the onset of discussion their willingness to ‘blend’ with Beaufort Architecture as much as possible and to be good citizens of the town.”
Mayor Newton emphasized the economic impact a hotel like Compass could have on the town.
“We believe the Compass Hotel will be a catalyst for economic development along Cedar Street,” Mayor Newton wrote in an email. “With major (North Carolina Department of Transportation) and town work on and under Cedar Street over the next few years, we expect positive growth in Beaufort’s commercial sector that will provide a better balance between residential and commercial tax base and utility users.”
Commissioner John Hagle echoed the mayor’s sentiments about commercial growth.
“The project will be a great economic expansion for Beaufort and serve as a major step in the development and changes planned for Cedar St.,” Mr. Hagle wrote in an email.
Despite the controversy surrounding the project, it’s still in the preliminary stages. The next step is to submit a complete site plan for review by town staff. This review doesn’t have to include details like building materials and colors.
“While the site plan is being reviewed by town staff, the applicant will apply for all required State and Federal issued permits,” reads the press release. “Since the site is in a National Historic District, there must also be a review performed by the NC Department of Cultural Resources.”
Next is review by the town’s planning board, followed by review by the town’s board of commissioners.
“Once final construction plans are completed, they will be submitted for review and approval to the NC Department of Insurance (DOI),” reads the press release. “Construction plans will be reviewed by DOI rather than the Town building inspector because state regulations require that DOI review structures with more than 99 guest rooms.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.