Ashland City Council members voted Tuesday to approve a permit that would allow owner Mark Gutteter to expand parking for the Cobblestone hotel and the Deepwater Grill and Alley Restaurant.
The parking expansion, to take place at 900 Main St. W., will require the demolition of an existing two-story wood-framed building, and the displacement of a first-floor business and three upstairs residential tenants.
The decision came despite opposition from Ashland resident Elizabeth Andre who told the council the downtown area should be dense with multi-use buildings.
“It’s not one that feels like a suburban strip mall where you have to walk across large expanses of concrete to get anywhere,” she said, calling on the city to “find more creative ways to provide the parking we need in downtown.”
Gutteter owns the Cobblestone Inn and the adjacent Deepwater Grille and Alley restaurant, which share a 72-space parking lot. But Gutteter says that’s not enough, and he wants to level the building across the street from the hotel at 900 Main St. W., which he owns, to free up more space.
“We’ve got 51 hotel rooms, plus employees, who will use the majority of those spots,” he said of the 72-slot lot behind the hotel. “In the winter time you’ve got to pile up snow on a corner of the parking lot and that leaves the Deepwater Grille with very few remaining spots. We will routinely have 200 people at the same time between the Deepwater and the Alley. It doesn’t work.”
Gutteter needed permission from the city to level the building that now houses the Main Street Insurance Agency and three apartments because the property is not zoned for parking. The last time he made such a request, it didn’t end the way he wanted.
In January of 2018, Gutteter proposed paving an empty lot at 717 Main St. W. about a block from the restaurants and hotel, but City Council members found that plan didn’t “conform to the goals and community values” identified in the community plan.
“The plan identifies that Ashland’s downtown area has an abundance of parking and the challenge for downtown Ashland is not parking or accessibility but rather to create a reason to be there both day and night,” the report said.
But a city Planning Department report on Gutteter’s new proposal says the lot he now wants to pave is outside the city’s core area, would not hinder development and would “provide overall benefits by addressing the perceived parking shortage in this area.”
The report also called the insurance building “blighted” and said its removal would promote the comprehensive plan to improve downtown building stock.
Gutteter said the lot also would ease interloper parking at the Wallie Motors building across Main Street from his operations. Its lot serves Ashland Liquor and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Star Liquor Store co-owner Nick Patel said the parking situation at his lot has greatly improved since the hotel’s lot was completed. The new lot would be far better for the hotel and restaurant than the lot proposed a year ago, he said.
“Nobody is going to park a block away and walk over,” he said.
Patel said his only concern with the proposal is the loss of the three apartments and the insurance business, which he views as more important to downtown life than a parking lot.
Former Ashland Historical Society board member Jan Cameron, an advocate for the preservation of historical buildings, said the insurance building has “no historic value that I know of.”
Cameron said old buildings likely will continue to be town down as Ashland remakes itself, but like Patel she doesn’t like the idea of losing downtown apartments.
And Joe Brezinski, owner of the insurance company, is less than thrilled about the idea, too. Brezinski said Monday he was surprised to hear of the proposal only seven months after he moved in as Gutteter’s tenant.
“If it means another move, that would definitely be not good,” he said. “It cost a lot of money just to change our address. You have to notify all your business partners and you have to notify your customers. It’s not something you want to do every other year.”
Gutteter said he would consider leaving the building in place and even fixing it up if the city would revisit the proposed parking lot at 717 Main St. W. He’s not eager to lose downtown housing and business, either.
“As we look at the possibility of not developing an empty piece of land, and actually removing an existing building, it seems counter-intuitive,” he said.
At the council meeting, Gutteter offered to postpone the conditional use permit vote to examine parking alternatives, but the council unanimously approved the measure, after voting to require a gateway sign that will welcome motorists to the central downtown area as a part of the permit.