Zoning change for proposed boutique hotel gets nod

May 1—Tahlequah Planning and Zoning Commissioners unanimously approved a change of zoning from public use to C2 commercial for a proposed boutique hotel and event center on College Avenue.

Developers presented plans to the commission during a meeting Tuesday, April 30. The hotel and event center is designed for the lot behind the old Workman Building and encompasses the historic Baptist Church.

Planning Director Paige Harjo said the Planning and Development Department found the proposal meets the requirements for a zoning change.

The city owns the property and was the petitioner. If City Council approves the change its the next meeting on May 6, 5:30 p.m., the land can be sold to Varia Hospitality Group, the partnership designing the hotel.

"The C2 zoning meets the requirements with what is planned — a boutique mall with a hotel, restaurant and some greenery for an event center," Harjo said.

Kimberly Honea and Daniel Dolins, with Varia Hospitality Group, and Mark Seibold, are partners in the venture, and Seibold is the architect. Dolins did not attend the town hall meeting Tuesday, April 23 or the planning meeting.

Honea shared the vision for the project to the commission and explained why this site was chosen.

"The downtown district is full of character, and it's growing and expanding around us," Honea said. "With growth comes tourism. After months of looking at data that shows year-over-year increases in tourism, we wanted to be sure our site provided an area those same tourists can eat at [restaurants] and shop in the area."

Honea said the partnership is considering allowing a weekly farmers' market in the lawn space in front of the church, facing College.

Attendees were asked to come to the podium if they wished to speak. Tabatha Hibbs and Mark Paulissen live across the street from the property and spoke against it.

Hibbs said Tahlequah already has a farmers' market on Saturday mornings.

"Franklin Castle is proposing to offer a midweek farmers' market in the evenings for those folks who can't get to the Saturday morning market," Hibbs said. "I bring this up because they talk about all the research they have done on Tahlequah and how well they know Tahlequah's needs, but it's obviously an oversight on their part to not realize we have one and don't need another one."

Paulissen said developers have given an incomplete rundown of the situation.

"Specifically, across College Avenue is a residential neighborhood that extends many blocks up the hill," Paulissen said.

People raise children, pets and gardens, and sidewalks are used for walking children and dogs, jogging and power walking, Paulissen said.

"But the most important thing is parking," Paulissen said.

Photos of cars parked on both sides of College Avenue during the Red Fern Festival April 26-27 were passed to commissioners. Paulissen said every time an event happens, the adjacent streets will look the same.

Jamie Hale, executive director of Tahlequah Main Street Association, and Nathan Reed, CEO and president of Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the zoning change.

Chrissi Nimmo, a Cherokee Nation attorney and Tahlequah school board member, lives three blocks from the proposed hotel. She said she is in favor of the project.

"My family and I have three elementary-age children and walk downtown often to eat and go to events," Nimmo said. "For a long time, I have thought the most important thing missing from downtown is lodging."

She said in the past two weeks, she knew of people from New York and California who drove to Tahlequah for the day and back to Tulsa to stay the night.

"If this place had been open, they would have stayed in town, would have eaten in restaurants, gone to art galleries, museums," Nimmo said. "This is a net benefit for Tahlequah, and I don't think parking is an issue."

Nancy Dyson, who has rental property within 300 feet of the site, said she is in favor of the hotel, as long as there is an onsite manager. She also requested that "no parking" signs be put up in areas where cars would interfere with homeowners' access to their property.

Harjo told her she would talk with her about it at a later time.

Commission Chair Ryan Cannonie called for a vote once all comments had been heard. The vote was 4-0 in favor, with one commissioner absent.

What's next

The next Planning and Zoning meeting is scheduled Tuesday, May 28 at 3 p.m. in the City Administration Building. The City Council meeting is Monday, May 6, 5:30 p.m., in the same location.