The man planning a boutique hotel project on South Union Street downtown wants to turn the vacant building across from the Sutherlin Mansion on Main Street into a similar business.
The Danville Planning Commission, by a 6-0 vote Monday, recommended that City Council approve a special-use permit for the project.
The commission also voted to allow, for the first time, hotels and motels in the transitional office district.
Ed Walker, of Mid-Altantic Prospects LLC in Roanoke, requested the special-use permit to develop 990 Main St. and 108 Holbrook St. — known informally as the old doctors building and including an annex — into a boutique hotel with as many as 40 suites.
During a presentation to commissioners, Walker said he wanted to help turn a dark, dangerous part of the area into a quieter, better-lit and safer place.
The structure and an annex on the property total about 30,000 square feet. Built in 1957, it used to house doctors offices and has been vacant since January, said Walker, who bought the building Nov. 30, 2018.
"This building appealed to me in a lot of ways," Walker told commissioners.
While the term "boutique hotel" can be vague, Walker defined it after the meeting as a hotel that is locally focused, not a chain establishment, and containing high-end furniture and fixtures and lots of landscaping.
"It's not your typical Hampton Inn," Walker told commissioners of his $6 million project across from the Sutherlin Mansion.
Pointing to the River District's offerings, he added that he wanted guests to feel a connection with the community.
Also, hotels' adverse impacts on a community are small, he said.
"Hotels are the least intensive in terms of total traffic count and noise," he said.
Most of about the nine attending to comment on the permit request expressed support for the plans during a public hearing, but a few residents spoke against it.
"It's a motel," said Dr. Stephan Jannach, a physician who lives in the area near the proposed site. "It's full of transient people that come and go."
But Averett University President Tiffany Franks said the hotel would be an option for visiting prospective students and parents of current students staying in town.
"This project could be of great value and benefit to Averett," Franks said.
In response to Jannach's comments, Walker said he understood his concerns. However, "the tone is really unfortunate and unhelpful," Walker added.
Susan Wilson, who lives on Main Street, said a hotel is not what she wants to see on Millionaires' Row.
"A hotel is not what any of us on Millionaires' Row were envisioning," Wilson said, adding that she and others were under the impression that the project would be for apartments.
Steve DelGiorno, owner of nearby Crema & Vine on Holbrook Avenue and Main Street, expressed support for the project.
"[The] forty-plus customers we could have certainly excites us," DelGiorno told commissioners, adding that the quality of Walker's work would enrich the area.
Frances Baughman, chair of the group Friends of the Old West End, recommended that the city establish the definition of "boutique hotel," and provided one in writing to the commission.
Senior planner Bryce Johnson said defining it would not be necessary since the city could add conditions to projects on a case-by-case basis.
Walker also is behind the $6.2 million hotel project in the Knights of Pythias Building and the site of the former Danville Register and The Bee at South Union Street downtown.
The project would include a hotel, called “The Honey Bee,” with 42 limited-service suites. The name would be a reference to when it housed the two newspapers that merged to become the Danville Register & Bee.
Walker also redeveloped the old Patrick Henry Hotel in Roanoke and renovated that city's health department building and turned it into West End Flats.
"I've never done a project I'm not proud of," he told commissioners.
Walker said he hopes to have the hotel built and open in 2021.
In another matter, the commission recommended approval of a special-use permit for 401 Bridge Street LLC to develop 52 residential units with first-floor commercial space at 401 Bridge St.