Neighbors First for Bywater – Board Meeting – December 18, 2019

Meeting started at 7:08PM. Present: Julie Jones, Michael Owings, Anthony Eschmann, Nancy Thacker, Brian Luckett, Tyler Harwood, Rhonda Findley (after 7:45)

The board was joined by Peter Aamodt from the MCC Group, who plan to develop a hotel at the former Holy Angels Convent (3500 St. Claude Ave.). Brian explained to Mr. Aamodt that NFB did not originally have a position on the plans, but since the City Planning Commission (CPC) report and updated plans have been presented we have new concerns. There are questions about how the CPC addresses parking requirements. The CZO calls for one parking spot per bedroom, but the CPC seems to say it is one per rental, no matter how many bedrooms. This seems problematic given the new model of hotel developers are currently pushing for, where there are more suites than single rooms. This is apparently intended to better compete with STRs run out of area homes. The original idea for Holy Angels included residences and senior housing, now it is a 180 bedroom hotel. The hotel would be run with minimal staff, possibly in partnership with the corporate STR juggernaut Sonder. This model provides few jobs for the neighborhood and seems likely to be more of a venue for partying tourists – a quality of life issue for near neighbors.

Mr. Aamodt responded that parking is based off of the hotel being “92 keys”, but providing that many parking spaces “goes against everything that is Bywater.” Everything is Uber, Lyft, and taxis these days, he said. MCC is satisfied they will have enough parking, and do not want guests taking up parking spots on the street. He mentioned that they “could pave the whole campus but really don’t want to.” The hotel will have a 24 hour front desk and security, and will involve 1-4 bedroom units. Guests can opt in or out of services like housekeeping or room service depending on their budgets. The pool may be open to the public.   

John Andrews is unhappy about the size of the building, and Nancy commented that the size “didn’t seem very Bywater.” The project would require a conditional use because it is well over the 10,000 square foot limit. The new building alone would be 49,000 square feet and the project as a whole 84,000 square feet. Brian lives very close by, and is OK with the design but his main concern at the moment is irregularities in the enforcement of parking requirements. If there needs to be an amendment to the CZO then we would gladly participate in that process, but if the CZO rules are optional or unenforced we have a problem. We have similar issues with the hotel planned for 500 Piety St. Brian has spoken with Councilmember Palmer and asked her to review current regulations, and Mr. Aamodt said he would share any studies they do with us. The project has 17 provisos at this point, and Mr. Aamodt gave a list to Brian. Rhonda suggested (via speakerphone) that the parking arrangement should set a good example, and should MCC need a parking waiver we should work together and keep things transparent, instead of the CPC making mysterious exceptions.

Mr. Aamodt assured us that the building would be good quality, and they’re not going to build anything “cheap”. He also mentioned that Mr. Jaeger (head of MCC) would “not want to embarrass himself” in regards to management. They moved away from the idea of senior housing because Mr. Jaeger became nervous about any potential management or legal issues. They do not have experience with senior Whyhousing but MCC group operates several hotels of many different sizes. Before departing, Mr. Aamodt told us they had brought their newest plans and studies regarding development of the NSA to HUD to discuss funding. HUD told them they wanted to do their own studies, which apparently means a “thirty day delay”. Mr. Aamodt was thanked for coming to meet with us. After he left Brian proposed we have a lawyer investigate how hotel parking is calculated. Nancy seconded. 6 voted for, 1 against. Four other board members will be asked to vote via email. 

Next we discussed the upcoming general meeting. Since the first Wednesday would have fallen on New Years Day the meeting will be pushed to the 8th, and we plan to have a social gathering at Luna Libre, Rhonda’s new cafe. Rhonda will need to pay her staff and we all agreed that NFB could cover the expense. Food will be served in waves. We also discussed issuing drink tickets to guests instead of having an open bar.

Julie then brought up the issue of a lack of enforcement regarding STRs with out of town owners. It is too easy to claim homestead exemption fraudulently, and the assessor seems uninterested in helping. If a neighbor has an issue with an STR tied to an illegitimate homestead exemption, the only option seems to be to hire a private investigator. Why have a law based on a requirement that is so easy to cheat? The idea of having a lawyer look into this issue was suggested, and we agreed it this conversation will be ongoing.

Tyler told the group that he had met with Myra Harris, a near neighbor to Studio Be (2941 Royal St). Myra has had issues with noise from events held at the art gallery since 2016, and has been writing to NFB asking for help. Communicating directly with the owner(s) was apparently ineffective, and she has since directed multiple complaints to various city officials with limited success. Some events apparently were put on without a permit, and nobody seemed to be willing to do anything about it. Noisy generators and HVAC units have been parked directly in front of her home on several occasions, and no efforts are made to clean up graffiti on that side of the building. Over time her emails have become somewhat acrimonious, and it seems no-one is interested in helping at this point. Her frustration is understandable. Other neighbors on the block are either not bothered by the events or are unwilling to complain. A few houses are vacant. The owners are applying to have the business permit designation changed from “Art Gallery” to “Cultural Facility”, which could mean more special events. Some improvements have been made to the space to facilitate this change. It was suggested that Myra assemble evidence that can be brought up when the permit is being reviewed by the city (should this happen), and we could assist.

Anthony then reminded us that we need to fill vacancies in the board, and announced he would be stepping down after the next election. He’s been advocating for our neighborhood since the 70’s! We all agreed the upcoming social would be an excellent opportunity to encourage some members to join the board, and Anthony reminded us the bylaws state candidates must be members for at least three months before the election.

The meeting ended at 8:33 pm.

Submitted by Tyler Harwood, secretary

This entry was posted in Minutes. Bookmark the permalink.