The extended-stay hotel, reportedly flying a "Hyatt House" flag, will proceed for final vote without a requirement that the developer save an elm tree that sits in what is to be the project’s parking lot. Presented with two proposed ordinances, one that forced the preservation of the tree and another that did not, Council decided against tree preservation.
The project, on Chicago Avenue at the site of the former Hiel and Hiel insurance building, has been in the works for at least two years. By all accounts, developer Janko and Associates (represented by Tom Blunk at Council), the City, and nearby neighbors have worked together throughout the process without acrimony or large disputes. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, speaking during the Planning and Development committee meeting, said, "It’s always wonderful to have a project that comes to us with a 5-0 vote [from the Plan Commission]."
That does not mean the project moved without controversy. The tree controversy was intense enough for City staff to punt it to Council by presenting two ordinances. At the suggestion of Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, Planning and Development punted it forward to full Council by passing both versions.
Assistant Director of Public Works and Parks/Forestry Paul D’Agostino said in a memo provided to Council that the elm tree would likely not survive the construction process even if an attempt to save it were made. While the tree is currently completely healthy at an estimated 150 years of age, he said, the shock of construction to its roots and branches would almost certainly kill it. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, cited the memo as a reason for voting against tree preservation.
Under the proposal, the new project would see three new trees in front of the hotel and a larger 9- inch-diameter tree in the southeast corner of the parking lot. The controversial elm tree sits on the south edge near the center of the proposed lot.
At Council, there was minimal debate. The tree-preservation version failed on a 2-4 vote, with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, joining Ald. Wilson in voting in favor. The version without a tree-preservation component passed 5-1 with Ald. Wilson voting again in favor.
The ordinance will be debated in full and will be up for final vote in two weeks. Other items remain to be clarified then. One is the developer’s contribution to the City for the loss of two metered parking spots on Chicago Avenue. The City places the value of those spaces at $69,500, and the developer is offering $10,000. Second, the City wants a sign advertising the bar-restaurant-lounge that will be open to the public, and not just hotel guests, on Chicago Avenue. Mr. Blunk said Hyatt simply does not do that.
David Reifman, attorney for the project, said that the developer’s approach was "to do something as close to code as possible" without seeking any tax break or other financial incentives from the City.