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Auditorium Lofts plan approved again

Second story slated for hotel/motel

SOLON– It’s been a long time since Solon had a hotel.
One is potentially in the works as Solon City Council members approved a new site plan for Auditorium Lofts & Commons at an Aug. 5 meeting.
Prairie Equity Group of Iowa City has proposed to renovate the 1915 former St. Mary auditorium at the corner of Dubuque and Short Streets into a mix of residential and commercial uses, including “The Literary Hotel,” a collection of 11 guest rooms on the second floor.
Council members approved a similar proposal for the building in 2017, with 17 upper-level condominiums (some available for temporary stays) and lower-level commercial units.
The resubmitted plan replaces the second floor living units with the hotel, leaving 10 apartments on the third floor.
The only other major revisions, according to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, were the addition of steps to the entrance and the relocation of an elevator to the interior of the structure.
The developers also sought 10 years of property tax abatement for the project and an easement agreement for city right-of-way, both approved by council members.
Prairie Equity Group also requested site plans for two separate parking areas, unchanged from 2017, to be considered, Rasmussen noted.
The parking lots will be located at 233 E. Main St. (adjacent to the auditorium) and 213 S. Dubuque St., a half-block away.
The Solon Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission reviewed the site plans at length during an Aug. 4 meeting, Rasmussen said, and recommended approval, contingent on City Engineer Dave Schechinger’s notations, and a developer’s agreement.
The P&Z supported the resubmittal of parking plans and a variance for green space.
Only 64 parking spaces were needed for the project in 2017, but the city has since increased its requirement for multifamily units from 2.5 to 3 spaces, Rasmussen noted, for a total of 69 spaces.
There are 49 spaces provided off-street by the developer, 24 in the lot next to the building and 25 on the Dubuque Street lot, leaving 20 to be absorbed by on-street parking.
Council member Dan O’Neil asked how many on-street spaces are considered available.
Mayor Steve Stange indicated angled public spaces on Dubuque Street are not utilized much.
“That’s quite a bit of open parking spaces,” he observed.
Public Works Director Scott Kleppe agreed.
City Engineer Schechinger reported 27 angled spaces exist on Dubuque Street between Main Street and 1st Street, with the 13 parallel spots.
The Main Street parking lot will be gate-controlled, with markings to identify reserved spots, but Stange and council members suggested gating the other lot as well.
The developers– Al Wells, Bill Wittig and Bruce Hudson– had agreed to leaving the second lot open, with some places reserved, back in 2017.
According to Wittig, 11 spots in the Main Street lot will be dedicated to hotel guests, with the remainder for apartment tenants. Some spaces in the second lot will be marked for tenant use, he said, while the others will serve as overflow.
Council member Lynn Morris said people will see an empty lot and assume they can park there.
Stange agreed gating both lots would help force overflow to Dubuque Street on-street parking.
“I just think it helps you meet your parking requirements better,” Stange said.
“We’ll do whatever you suggest,” Hudson responded. “We’re OK with that.”
“We would prefer that,” Wittig added.
Ramsussen continued through the P&Z’s recommendations, including the need to acquire the Dubuque Street lot property prior to construction, the submission of erosion and stormwater plans before the issuance of permits, the relocation of water and sewer lines, the capping of sewer mains when necessary and the creation of a buffer for the 213 S. Dubuque St. parking lot. A lighting plan for the lot will need to be approved by city staff.
P&Z members expressed concern about the doors to The Literary Hotel opening onto the sidewalk, but developers agreed to recess the doors by a foot.
The approximately 5,000 square feet of ground level commercial space will be divided into six units. No restaurants will be allowed, although a kiosk providing coffee and pastries supplied by Good Vibes Café to hotel guests is possible, noted Wells.
The P&Z members passed the recommendation for approval on a 5-1 vote, Rasmussen said.
“Overall, any concerns they had with parking were outweighed by what the impact to the community is going to be,” she observed.
According to Wittig, the 10 apartments will range between 551 and 1,194 square feet, with rental price points varying from $900-1,400.
The third story will feature a “nice mix” of one bedroom/one bath, two bedroom/one-and-a-half bath and three bedroom/two bath units. Some pets will be allowed.
Commercial sprinklers will be installed throughout the building.
The easement agreement covers the steps to the front of the building and an overhang running along Short Street and over the hotel entrance, Rasmussen noted. Both will be located in the city right-of-way.
The 10-year tax abatement Prairie Equity Group requested is an economic development incentive offered as part of the city’s urban revitalization plan.
The property tax generated by improvements to commercially-classified portions of the project will be abated on a sliding scale beginning at 80 percent the first year and dropping incrementally to 20 percent the final two years.
Council members unanimously approved the amended site plan, the easement agreement and the tax abatement application on 4-0 votes with member Lauren Whitehead absent.