The proposed 88-room Home 2 Suites hotel in Carmel has hit a speed bump.
Ohio-based The Witness Group had requested three variances from the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals that applied to signage, buffer areas and building height for the proposed five-story hotel, and all three were denied by the board last month.
But parking may be an even bigger issue for the project, and a solution has not yet been reached.
The 62,790-square-foot Home 2 Suites by Hilton hotel would be located at 12845 Old Meridian St., directly in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10003 building at 12863 Old Meridian St.
It would feature an indoor pool, fitness center, meeting room, breakfast area and patios.
The hotel and its parking lot would replace the existing 35-spot lot currently used by the VFW, because, according to a somewhat unusual deal struck 10 years ago, the veterans’ group appears to only control the property its building is on.
The Witness Group has proposed 125 parking spaces and has told VFW officials that it could have 37 of those spots. But VFW members argue it won’t be enough to accommodate their busy times.
VFW Post 10003 Commander Steven McDanield told IBJ on Monday the post needs at least 50 parking spots, and even that wouldn’t be enough during events, when attendees often have to use the surrounding vacant land for overflow parking.
The VFW opened its building on Old Meridian Street in 2009 as part of a deal with the city of Carmel and Keystone Realty Group.
The post had previously been located at the northeast corner of First Street Northwest and First Avenue Northwest in downtown Carmel. But in 2008, the city approved plans from Keystone to redevelop the property into a four-story mixed-use building.
Initially, the VFW was going to remain at the location in the new building, but then Keystone proposed constructing a new headquarters for the VFW on property the construction company already owned on Old Meridian Street.
The VFW members voted to relocate to the new building proposed by Keystone on Old Meridian, rather than stay downtown. The facility opened on Nov. 11, 2009.
At the time, the property on Old Meridian had also been approved for a four-story office and retail building that had been expected to be located in front of the VFW headquarters. The agreement called for parking to be shared between the future office and retail users and the VFW.
But the office and retail building was never constructed, and since then, the VFW has been using the parking lot in front of its building.
The proposed Home 2 Suites would be located where the originally proposed office and retail building would have been.
A new, shared parking lot would be between the hotel and the VFW.
McDanield said post officials understand the property will be developed someday, but he wants it to be responsible.
"I just don’t believe that particular piece of land is suitable for the project,” McDanield said. "Even if we weren’t there, I’m not sure it’d be suitable.”
City officials are worried about parking too. Even though the requested variances did not apply to parking, Board of Zoning Appeals members expressed concern at a meeting on Jan. 22 that the hotel could potentially landlock the VFW building. The board denied all three variance requests.
Askash Patel, chief development officer for The Witness Group, told IBJ that the variances they requested probably are not necessary for the project to move forward because Carmel’s zoning code was updated at the beginning of 2018.
Patel said they filed the variance requests because the initial hotel plans were filed in 2017, when old zoning regulations still applied.
And the developer is still working on the parking issue. Patel said officials have met with VFW members since the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, and they continue to negotiate.
"It’s a productive conversation at this point,” Patel said. "I think it will take a little bit of time.”
He said they are "in no rush” to construct the hotel, and they hope to get the support of the VFW.
McDanield said Monday that the last proposal he’d seen from the developer still had too many uncertainties and vague language about parking and access the VFW would have.
The project is expected to be discussed at the Carmel Plan Commission on March 6.