Holladay Hotel ‘held hostage’
Nov 25, 2019 09:37AM
● By Zak Sonntag
Signs denote the private easement. (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)
By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]
The planning commission in November postponed the approval for the Holladay Hotel site plan, protracting an already drawn-out process and setting the stage for a potential lawsuit between developers and the city.
The site plan, located at 6433 South Highland Drive, has stalled over concerns with its “access capacity,” which relies on a single, northbound entry point that many argue would intensify traffic problems on a precarious stretch of roadway. Nobody gushed over the design.
“It is not an ideal plan,” admitted Steve Lovell, who represents the developer. “But it’s a good plan.”
The underwhelming proposal is a shift from an earlier, and far more desirable, design that’s been “held hostage” by a resident who stalwartly declines to sign an access agreement allowing the hotel to use a portion of a shared easement in the abutting neighborhood. But the holdout, a former army sergeant named Neil Lund, sees it differently.
“This [access agreement] locks me into a contract that is disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worse. They have the right to terminate an agreement, but I don’t. That doesn’t benefit me to tie myself up this way,” Lund explained to the commission.
The easement lies on a private lane and is shared by six households with a total of nine legal signatories, all of which must sign the access agreement if the hotel wants to pursue its preferred initial site plan. Residents, city officials and developers agree the initial design is safer and smarter. But unless lane residents reach unanimity, plan A will not leave the runway.
“We’re only missing one signature. One half of one household, and without it we’ve had to move on to site plan B,” Lovell said.
Pressure on Lund to sign the agreement is mounting, and his continued refusal is generating frustration with neighbors.
“He is trying extort money from the development. He is singlehandedly trying to stop site plan A, beyond our comprehension. I think it’s going to cost us all significantly if he is able to stop the progress we’ve made in working out a reasonable site plan agreement.” said Camille Andersen, a lane resident whose home sits directly next to the hotel property, speaking with the City Journals after the hearing. “The better and safer plan is being held up by one half of one household. Even his wife has signed the agreement.”
But Lund doesn’t agree, and he told the Journal, “They can call it extortion, and yet they want to build a multimillion-dollar hotel that will hurt our property value. I think if you have property then there’s value there. It’s not improper that you're paid for value.”
The commission nonetheless reproached Lund for his obstinacy.
“Rational minds should prevail, and it is irrational to me that people have come up with a plan that the city agrees to, the developers agreed to, and the majority of residents, and it’s being held hostage,” said planning commissioner Allyssa Lloyd, thumping her hand at her desk. “I would like to explore and consider eminent domain.”
For the project developer, the time has all but expired for negotiation. Lovell adamantly pressed to commission to move forward with the “back-up” site plan. “We're on the clock. We’ve got 18 months [because] we are in a contract with Marriott. To get the construction up and running is a very long process,” said Lovell, indicating the developers may face financial penalties if the process is stalled longer.
But residents are aghast with the new proposal, and derided the move as a “bait-and-switch.”
“It is a farce. I think this is a mockery to our whole system if developers can change a plan at the last minute. We now have to drive through a hotel parking lot to leave our homes,” said Bonnie Felts, one of the lane residents. “This new plan is not safe. It’s not secure.”
The biggest issue for the community is safety. While the site plan B did gain approval from Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), who conducted a traffic study to confirm the project would not hinder public safety, neighbors strongly disagree with UDOT’s verdict.
“UDOT quite frankly doesn’t care about the City of Holladay or any other city. They’ll approve it one way or the other,” Lund said, speaking to the one point neighbors uniformly agree on.
Andersen told the commission, “Guests are going to have to have to make a U-turn to get into the hotel when going southbound, and when they pull out they’re going to immediately switch lanes and make another U-turn to head back southbound. The road gets blocked with people doing this already — imagine how bad and dangerous that will get when you add a hotel full of people.”
Earlier in the process, the developer himself told the commission the hotel was proposed on an accident-prone stretch of road, the result of its notorious “flag intersection.” Site plan A was designed to improve traffic conditions by adding infrastructure, including a stoplight at 6400 South, paid for by the developer, which allayed neighbors’ concerns. The back-up plan, albeit, does not include those same infrastructure enhancements because they’d require a right-of-way agreement to the easement.
“I don’t know what they were thinking when they all the sudden agree to implement a design they know is flawed. It’s horrible for us. But it’s absurd for the whole community. It will create a nightmare on an already narrow and busy section of highland drive,” said Felts. “None of us thought UDOT would okay something like site plan B. When we went to contest UDOT on the matter, they said there was no appeal process. We’re getting let down by our government at every turn.”
The new site plan is only the latest disappointment on a project that’s been met with aversion at each step. For lane residents, the bigger problem is the city’s priorities.
“In this whole process, Holladay City is supporting developers over property owners,” Andersen said. “After the city first rezoned our neighborhood to accommodate a hotel, we left with our mouths wide open and in shock. And then, we try to make the best of a bad situation, but we get thrown this bomb and they blindside us with site plan B, it drew a flurry of freak-outs.”
The neighborhood’s disenchantment goes all the way to the top.
“The mayor has washed his hand of this. We have requested his help. He promised to meet with us and didn’t follow up. He’s excited about the tax revenue, and he’s not considering the fact that he has residents that are taking the hit for the whole city,” said Felts.