Lot 9 proposal advances to city

By Burk Krohe

The Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board voted to forward a recommendation of approval to the Manhattan City Commission for a preliminary development plan for Lot 9 in the south end. The board also voted to forward a recommendation of approval for a final development plan for the first project on the site, a Candlewood Suites and adjacent parking lot.

Despite the board’s eventual approval, there was obvious wariness in forwarding the recommendation. Board members had concerns about plans for a drive-in restaurant in a mixed-use building, the level of parking and the general standards of the development.

“I’m afraid we took a plausible idea and then pushed it just a little too far,” Stephanie Rolley, board member, said.

Second thoughts are nothing new for the 4-acre site just north of Fort Riley Boulevard. Previously, the City Commission debated whether the development is the best option for the site and even considered putting out requests for development proposals. The Commission has also shown concern for the impact the two hotels planned for the site would have on the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center.

Rolley suggested tabling the vote and later moved to deny a recommendation. The board eventually found support for approval, which came with an additional recommendation to deny drive-in restaurant as a permitted use on the site.

“I don’t think that should be allowed; that’s not the vision down there,” Mike Kratochvil, board member, said. “I hope they get some upscale restaurants down there.”

The development plan breaks the site into six smaller lots, those to be developed piece by piece. A Candlewood Suites will sit on Lot 1, a Holiday Inn Express will sit on Lot 2 and a mixed-use building with plans for residential and retail uses will sit on Lot 3. Lots 4,5 and 6 will be parking lots that correspond to the other lots. Flint Hills Square, a local development firm consisting of Colin Noble, a local hotelier, and Gwyn Riffel, a local developer, is developing the project.

Board members agreed they could support plans for Lot 1 and Lot 4, the Candlewood Suites and parking lot directly east of the new south park. It was the rest of the development that gave board members pause.

Linda Morse, board member, said plans for a drive-in restaurant weren’t a deal-breaker for her, but the other board members felt such an establishment would not fit into the character the city has worked to cultivate in the south end. 

Rolley was also concerned with the plans for the Holiday Inn Express. She noted the hotel is on an oddly shaped lot, bounded by the K-177 on ramp and Fort Riley Boulevard, and felt it doesn’t fit into the urban character of the area.

“The Holiday Inn seems to be a difficult fit with this site to match our downtown guidelines,” Rolley said.

Concerns weren’t limited to board members. Officials from the Hilton Garden Inn and HCW, the firm that developed the Hilton, expressed their objections.

Barry Schwartz, chief financial officer of HCW, said HCW and the Hilton are concerned about two hotels hurting the Hilton’s occupancy rates. Schwartz also said HCW’s project was held to high standards, which Flint Hills Square should also be held to. He noted the plans for a drive-in restaurant in particular.

“We really don’t want to see anything take away from what that district was intended to be,” Schwartz said.

Kratochvil also showed anxiety toward the level of parking that will be available. There will be a total of 208 off-street parking spaces — 112 fewer than the estimated demand — between Lots 4,5 and 6.

Kratochvil said if there are events at the Conference Center and the Discovery Center, parking would be nearly impossible to find. Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said the city is aware that “parking will be a premium.” Hilgers said the south end is planned as an urban area that facilitates pedestrian foot traffic. Hilgers and Zilkie also pointed out that spaces in the parking garage and along nearby streets will be available.

The action passed on a 3-1 vote, Rolley dissenting.

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