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TWINSBURG -- The Board of Zoning Appeal's rejection of variances requested for the construction of a Residence Inn last month was narrowly upheld by City Council Feb. 14.
Four Councilmembers: Council President Gary Sorace, Jo-Ann McFearin (Ward 3), Maureen Stauffer (Ward 4) and Seth Rodin (Ward 5) voted to overturn the Board of Zoning Appeal's rejection of the variances, which would have allowed for a 5-story Residence Inn by Marriott off the Wilcox Drive cul-de-sac, zoned C-3 interchange business district.
Overturning the BZA's decision, however, required a supermajority, or five votes.
Three Councilmembers: Sam Scaffide (Ward 1), Brian Steele (Ward 2) and Bill Furey (At-large) voted to uphold the BZA's decision, and the 3-4 split vote stood.
City planners in 2016 approved preliminary plans for an 89-room, 68,400-square-foot Residence Inn by Marriott on Wilcox Drive, to be constructed just south of the 4-story Hilton Garden Inn of Cleveland/Twinsburg, where the building that housed the old Damon's Grill and Sports Bar still sits.
However, plans were put on hold due to a variance request from Residence Inn officials that would have allowed for 99 rooms in a 70,000-square-foot building.
Joe DeLuca, representing Residence Inn partner PDQ Hospitality, said the proposed Residence Inn would fill a need in the community as an extended-stay hotel.
"This met the niche that Twinsburg pretty much needed for the hotel market," DeLuca said. "We had a feasibility study done, which was handed to the BZA, [and] it was very positive."
However, Bob Voelker, president of the Twinsburg-based Gateway Hospitality Group, argued that not only was the hotel too big for that particular space, but there was little need for another hotel. Gateway Hospitality Group is the hospitality management company for the The Hilton Garden Inn of Cleveland/Twinsburg and developer of Wilcox Place and Blue Canyon.
"If there was a need for a hotel, I'd build it," Voelker said, adding that the current market in the area would not support something as large as a 99-room hotel.
"The occupancy has declined in this market," he said. "There's not enough business. This is a ridiculous request for variances."
Roger Green, general manager of The Hilton Garden Inn of Cleveland/Twinsburg, said the plans "would impact the visibility of the Hilton," adding that there are "other sites" in the city that would be a better fit.
DeLuca countered that having two hotels in proximity would benefit both hotels, since the Residence Inn would serve a different clientele. He said Marriott has an alternative building design, SpringHill Suites (that Residence officials say would fit within the zoning code parameters of that parcel), that is roughly 60,000 square feet and 96 rooms.
However, DeLuca said it would too closely resemble the Hilton and therefore compete for customers.
"The difference is the amenities," he said. "The Residence Inn has a bar area, a breakfast [area] that serves food, versus a normal hotel, the SpringHill, which would compete. This is an extended-stay product. The rooms [in the Residence Inn] are bigger, every room is a kitchenette. There is no product like this in Twinsburg."
DeLuca said he "could do either" a SpringHill or a Residence Inn.
"Are we going to build a hotel there?" DeLuca addressed Council. "Yes, we are. It's a matter of which product it is at this point."
At-Large Councilor Sorace said he was disappointed the BZA ruling was not overturned.
"I thought the proposal was appropriate, and I thought it very inappropriate for our business owners to testify against a new business coming into town, for their own benefit," Sorace said. "They obviously had an interest for not going in."
The city missed "an opportunity to bring another big business in town," Sorace said.
"The irony of the whole thing is Mr. DeLuca said in his presentation that he would come back with a building that would be a direct conflict with what is already there," he said. "What he was trying to build was a different business from what the Hilton does. Now he will come back with something similar to what the Hilton has."
Stauffer agreed, saying the Residence Inn would have meant more money for Twinsburg.
"I felt the Residence Inn would be a nicer addition for Twinsburg," Stauffer said, added that several businesses in that area had expressed support for the Residence Inn."
However, Furey said he was not comfortable overturning what had been a unanimous vote by the BZA in rejecting the variances Jan. 25.
"I was at both planning meetings and I was at the BZA," Furey said. "I did not have the will, I did not think it was right, to overrule the BZA vote when they had such a thorough review. Those were significant variances. The owner of the property admitted he bought the land without knowing the zoning."
Furey added that the city is "flexible to a degree" on its zoning, but thought the variances in this case were too large. Rejecting the request was "a reasonable conclusion by the Board of Zoning Appeals." SpringHIll, which would be a 3-story building, would have enough frontage, he said.
Steele, too, said he didn't want to overrule the BZA's unanimous ruling.
"I voted against it because the BZA voted against it, plain and simple," he said "I won't override the five guys on the BZA."