Reservations about hotel plan in Kennett Square
● By Steven Hoffman
A boutique hotel might still be built in Kennett Square Borough, but the plans for one near the intersection of Broad and Cypress streets that were introduced just last month appear to be all but dead.
At its meeting on Sept. 5, Kennett Square Borough Council voted 6-0 to support a decision by the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) to deny an application to demolish three buildings on the site where the hotel was proposed.
Early in the meeting, Edward Foley, an attorney with Brutscher, Foley, Milliner & Land, LLP, who is representing the Kennett Realty Group for the project, requested that borough council table a decision on the matter so that the applicant could make a follow-up presentation to council in the near future. He explained that the Kennett Realty Group was already in the process of making revisions to the concept plans to address some of the concerns that have been raised.
But when Kennett Square Borough Council elected to deny the request immediately rather than accommodate the applicant's request to wait to see those revisions, it sent a clear message that the hotel plans, as they stand, are almost certainly dead-on-arrival, and it would take more than minor revisions for the project to move forward.
Clara Saxton, a member of the HARB board, outlined the reasons why the plan to demolish the three buildings, which are within the boundaries of the borough's historic district, are not consistent with the borough's HARB ordinance. Saxton explained that the demolition of the buildings would detract from the historic district, and would go against everything that the HARB ordinance stands for. She added that the developer presented no evidence to show why the buildings should be demolished, and the buildings themselves are in good shape―they are utilized as office space.
About two dozen residents lined up during an hour-long public comment session to share their concerns about the proposed hotel. Many of the residents said that the hotel, with its 100-plus rooms, would represent a significant threat to the charm, character, and history of Kennett Square. Numerous residents suggested that the developers should go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan for a hotel that would fit in better with downtown district, starting with a new location that wouldn't require the demolition of buildings in the historic district.
As Dennis Melton, an architect in town, explained, “I like the idea of a hotel in Kennett Square. I think the location being proposed is not appropriate.”
Melton added, “The three structures in that location have historic value, they are useful, and they contribute to the economic development of the town.”
Others agreed with Melton's assessment that a different location for the hotel would be preferable.
Borough resident Peter Waterkotte said that he didn't think that a hotel that could be up to 75 feet tall is the right fit for Kennett Square.
“One of the things I'm hearing tonight is that our community is saying that we are okay with a hotel coming to town, if it's done right,” Waterkotte said. “We love our town. We want to protect our town.”
He concluded his remarks by saying that he is confident that borough officials, working with local residents, will be able to make sure that the project is accomplished in the correct manner.
Resident Brenda Mercomes said, “I think the idea of a hotel in Kennett Square is wonderful, but not at the expense of historical buildings.”
Susan Myers said that a borough with as much historic charm and character as Kennett Square should be protective of its historical resources, and not allow them to be replaced with buildings that aren't creatively designed.
“There is no imagination and no creativity to putting up another box,” Myers said.
She also expressed her surprise that there had been no mention of the borough's ordinance pertaining to hotels. The square-footage of the proposed site is about one-half the size of what would be required to build a hotel according to the ordinance, she said.
“My question is, why are we even considering this?” Myers asked.
Sally Warren, a resident of Kennett Square for the last 20 years, also had a question: “What if we destroy these buildings and then the hotel plans fall through?”
Holly Peters, the owner of Holly Peters Oriental Rugs & Home, has owned the building at 109 South Broad Street for the last nine years. She said that another tall building on the street that doesn't have a retail component would not be helpful to her business, or the others on the street. She also read comments from Renee, the owner of Anchor Life + Fitness, which shared a similar sentiment.
Peters said that everyone should celebrate the fact that Kennett Square has reached a point where a hotel is looking to locate downtown, but it must be the right kind of hotel on the right site.
No fewer than three candidates for a seat on Kennett Square Borough Council declared their opposition to allowing the demolition of the buildings to move forward. Two owners of bed-and-breakfast establishments also voiced their opposition.
Everyone who spoke against the proposed plan at the meeting joined the more than 900 people who had signed an online petition at change.org that was also against the project.
During his time at the microphone, Foley pointed out that the Kennett Realty Group was only requesting a conditional application for demolition at this point, and it is based on the condition that, at some point in the future, the borough council approves the hotel. If the plans for the hotel are not approved by council, there is no need to demolish the buildings.
“You will remain in control of the process,” Foley said.
After listening to the residents' concerns, borough council did not feel the need to wait to see revised plans from the developer. Instead, they voted, as the HARB board did, to not allow the demolition of the buildings.
Ethan Cramer, the council member who made the motion, said that the HARB ordinance that is in place in the borough makes it clear that buildings in the historic district are to be protected.
Council member Jamie Mallon, said that there may be a need for a boutique hotel in town, but “this is probably not the best location for it.”
Council member LaToya Myers expressed a similar sentiment, saying: “I do not believe it's in the best location.”
Doug Doerfler said that the HARB board was doing its job when it voted to not allow the demolition of the historic buildings.
“I completely agree with their decision,” he said.
Council president Dan Maffei noted that the concept of the project was very preliminary. He said that he, too, would be voting to uphold the HARB board's decision.
Council member Wayne Braffman talked about the importance of the buildings on the proposed site and other historic buildings in town to the residents of Kennett Square.
“Those buildings are us,” Braffman said. “You rip out those buildings, you rip out our heart.”
He suggested that borough officials should review the ordinance that pertains to the Tall Buildings Overlay, because it would seem to be in conflict with the ordinances protecting the historic district.
Braffman pledged to work with the developer to find a more suitable location for the boutique hotel.
“I have to believe that there is a suitable location,” he said.
Council voted 6-0 to uphold the HARB board's decision. The large crowd applauded the decision.