By Gloria Lloyd
Sunset Hills elected officials have been more outspoken lately about why they might reject a new hotel at the site of the current Days Inn, noting that whatever is built there will last for decades and they want to get it right.
At the request of Days Inn owner HR Sheevam, the Board of Aldermen postponed a final decision on the plan to a work session next month when aldermen hope to talk to neighboring business owners.
For more than a year, Sheevam has sought permission to tear down the Days Inn at 3654 S. Lindbergh Blvd. and build a new Comfort Suites hotel in its place.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has unanimously recommended the plan, but aldermen have so far shied away from approving it due to concerns about whether it could take away parking for the popular and often overflowing restaurant and bar next door, Helen Fitzgerald’s.
Aldermen denied the plan earlier this year, but had not extensively discussed their opposition until they made their reasons clearer at a Nov. 28 work session and the Dec. 12 board meeting.
In the current plan, Sheevam would raze two of the low-slung buildings that comprise the current Days Inn, which have 95 total units, and replace them with a newer four-story hotel with 60 rooms. He would also demolish another building to add parking.
While Sheevam has amended the plan and brought it back several times, that didn’t appear to sway aldermen.
“This isn’t like you come to the board so many times and you get what you want,” Ward 2 Alderman Steve Bersche said.
A rendering from a proposal Sheevam had years ago showed four hotels behind Helen’s, facing away from the neighbors.
That plan seemed better than the current one, Bersche noted. But that original plan fell through, and Sheevam lost financing.
“It’s been 2006 since I’ve been going back and forth, and now it seems I’m back to square one,” Sheevam said, noting that no new hotels have been built in Sunset Hills in roughly 15 years, while they have gone up in other cities. “I think it’s time for you to trust in me, I know my business and I know what works … Just because the problem is from Sybergs or the shopping center or the other traffic, I shouldn’t be held back from my modernization.”
Much of the opposition revolves around parking at Helen’s, which the Syberg family owns and operates on land on a 100-year lease from Sheevam. Parking is a perpetual problem at the busy restaurant, which shares parking with the hotel. Aldermen said they want a representative of the Sybergs at their next meeting on the hotel, and anything else would be a “waste of time,” Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich said.
Ward 3 Alderman Kurt Krueger became the plan’s most vocal critic at the work session.
“Just change the plan,” Krueger suggested to Sheevam. “The plan is what the plan is, it’s not a very good plan. It shows parking for Helen Fitzgerald’s as far away on the property as it can be. If they want to build this, whether it’s successful or not successful, it’s still going to be bad planning.”
Board President Richard Gau suggested that a traffic study be conducted not just on trips in and out of the site, but also of circulation within the site itself and possibly extending to the property next door. He and other city officials have suggested that Sheevam develop a cross-access agreement with the Sansone Group, which owns the shopping plaza next door at Toys “R” Us where Helen’s customers often park.