Parking raises concerns in Spa project


By Patsy Nicosia

Finding parking for the thousands of day and, eventually, overnight, visitors to Sharon Springs Inc.'s Imperial Baths and Columbia Hotel could be a stumbling block for the developers.
"It's not insurmountable," Sharon Springs Mayor Doug Plummer told SSI reps Thursday after a presentation focusing on design plans for the Columbia Hotel Thursday.
"Lord, knows we have property."
But SSI's hopes of putting parking for the two facilities on the site of the Washington Hotel, demolished last fall, would require a zoning variance and likely face vocal opposition from neighbors, already alarmed by the possibility.
In December, the village agreed to be the lead agency for SSI's renovation and restoration of the historic Imperial Baths as a modern, Korean-style spa.
That review process is expected to take two to three months, but Thursday's presentation on the Columbia Hotel raised questions on how the project's pieces fit together.
Ken Kim of the Concept Design Group told Mayor Plummer and trustees that because asbestos remediation at the Columbia would be so costly, SSI's plans call for taking it down and rebuilding a four-story 52-53 room hotel in the same footprint.
The hotel would face the Imperial Baths and include walkways and greenhouses; a plaza between the hotel and Route 10 could be used for summer food kiosks.
Traffic from the busses expected to deliver the day-use clients would deliver them to the Columbia to avoid traffic issues on Route 10, Mr. Kim said.
SSI would like to open the Columbia at the same time as the Imperial Baths, Mr. Kim said, calling it critical.
But Sharon's zoning code doesn't permit four-story hotels, so that portion of the project would require a use variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Plans to build parking at the former Washington Hotel would also require a variance-though Codes Enforcement Officer Gene DiMarco said SSI could also ask for a change in zoning instead.
"Not to say they're a wild card," Mr. DiMarco said of the ZBA, "but they're a wild card. If you're hinging everything on that..."
Mayor Plummer said he's raised the question issue repeatedly and still doesn't know where SSI's busses will go.
"There haven't been any presentations yet about parking," he said. "I've said 1,000 times that the zoning code isn't a doorstop; it's the law," and he had to put in a $30,000 parking lot when he and partner Garth Roberts rehabbed the American Hotel-money they didn't have at the time either.
"And it [the parking lot] still has to go before the ZBA."
There were also concerns on how to view the addition of the Columbia to the project.
Though the larger scope of the three pieces-as opposed to just the Imperial Baths-wouldn't substantially change the review process, Michelle Kennedy, attorney for the village, said it would change some of the permitting requirements.
After discussion, Ms. Kennedy said it would probably be best to proceed with the Imperial Baths as a separate project-though Trustee Margi Neary said she'd understood the addition of the Columbia to be critical to SSI's financing.
Aiden Han, spokesman for SSI, said it is.
"I will have to talk to my bankers and see if they'll let us start with the Imperial Baths and add the Columbia," he said. "I can't say they'll accept."
The biggest piece of the SSI puzzle-and one that they haven't even begun to address yet, said consultant Jody Zakrevsky, is the Adler Hotel.
"The rate of return [on the Imperial Baths and the Columbia Hotel] is so low, that without the Adler, it almost doesn't make sense," Mr. Zakrevsky said, "and that's not even in the design phase yet. In order for them to make a profit, they need to do the Adler.