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A reader added this in comments to an open line last night, but it bears more attention.
Library director Bobby Roberts is calling for allies in the library's effort to hold down the size of a hotel proposed for a current parking lot on President Clinton Ave. across the street from the River Market. Note that Roberts doesn't oppose 1) a hotel 2) modern architecture or 3) a mix of commercial and hotel use in the building. He's merely arguing for a building whose height doesn't dominate the surrounding older commercial structures (some being adapted for modern use).
I'm with Roberts, as usual. I'd be interested in hearing about traffic flow and parking, too.
Below is 1) the lot targeted for a six-story development and 2) an aloft hotel in Rogers, the type proposed for the River Market.
LETTER FROM CALS DIRECTOR BOBBY ROBERTS
A development is being proposed for the River Market District that will have an adverse impact on the Main Library campus and the new Arkansas Studies Institute. Please take a few minutes to read this document and examine the attachments [I'm seeking them, too]. I hope you'll help us defeat this proposal. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and please pass this along to your friends.
On August 29, the Business Section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette published a story about a proposed aloft hotel to be built adjacent to the Main Library Campus. If approved by the city, the structure will be sandwiched between the Arkansas Studies Institute and the Cox Creative Center (see attached map). The library is opposed to this project and I want to share my concern with you.
Our specific concern is that this proposal violates the height requirement of the Design Overlay District (DOD) which was created in 1996. The DOD exists to make certain that the River Market District's historic character as a small scale commercial district is not destroyed by improper development. One crucial protection is the requirement that no new building be over four stories or forty-eight feet in height. The proposed hotel, which is seven stories and at its highest point will be 90 feet tall, clearly exceeds that limitation. For your review, I have attached elevations that show the proposed building. That structure dwarfs its neighbors and threatens the architectural unity of the River Market District.
Some people have alleged that we are opposed to the project because of either its use or design. Neither statement is true. For your information I have attached an image of a six story aloft hotel in Rogers. These are contemporary buildings, but we have no objection to such style providing it follows the material, massing, roof design, and window requirements in Sec. 36-356 of the DOD. Similarly, we are not opposed to the proposed uses of the building, which are about 10% retail and 90% hotel. Our only concern is the adverse impact that any waiver of the height restrictions will have on both the district and the Main Library Campus.
While the DOD does not address the style of new buildings, it does require that, when remodeling existing buildings, the historic look of the structure be considered. Since the creation of the DOD, the library has been involved in the rehabilitation of three historic buildings - Cox, Geyer & Adams, and Budget Office. In every case we have tried our best to conform to the DOD. We are completing one new building which is a contemporary design but falls within the four story requirement of the DOD. Certainly, another story would have been useful to us, but we chose to stay within the requirements. In every case we have done our best to play by the design rules. We are only asking that these developers follow the same rules.
The River Market has been successful because the DOD has kept the small scale commercial nature of the area largely intact. That gives the district its pedestrian-friendly feel and is in keeping with the intent of the DOD. Furthermore, it is institutions like the library, with almost 400,000 visitors annually; the Clinton Library with an equal number of visitors; the Museum of Discovery; the Historic Arkansas Museum; the Old State House Museum and other cultural attractions that provide the foot traffic for the retail stores and restaurants in the district. This combination of small scale commercial architecture and the foot traffic generated from nearby public institutions works for all of us, and we should not tamper with a successful formula.
As you know, the public library began the first major development in the River Market District. Since then taxpayers have spent almost $38,000,000 developing the library campus and, in the next two years, will spend another $3,000,000 to complete the top floor of the Main Library. We have tried to be good stewards of the public's money, and we have an obligation to protect their investment in downtown Little Rock. The scale of this proposal has a negative impact on our historic buildings and significantly weakens the small scale commercial character of the district.
If you agree that this is a crucial issue, then I hope you will help us in our effort to have developers follow the rules.
You can do that by contacting the River Market District Design Review Committee and asking them not to recommend that the height variance be waived for this project, and attend their meeting on September 9, 2008, to voice your concern about the proposal. The second group that needs to hear from those who support us is the Board of Adjustment, which makes the final decision on granting the variance. Please contact them and plan on attending their meeting on September 29, 2008. (For your convenience I have attached information on both committees).
Please act now. We need your help to stop this development. Call me at 918-3037 if you have any questions.