Eola presentation to planning commission rescheduled

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

NATCHEZ — A snowstorm will postpone a presentation this week about the future of the former Natchez Eola Hotel on Main Street.

The snow delay may ultimately give developers time to convince the city’s planning commission to approve the project.

At the moment, it’s not up to snuff, Interim Natchez City Planner Riccardo Giani said.

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The owner and developers of the former Main Street hotel building will not be able to travel to Natchez as expected, forcing the delay.

The presentation is now expected to occur at the next planning commission meeting on Feb. 18.

Eola owner Robert Lubin will not be able to travel to Natchez from his Virginia home due to expected severe snowstorms in the Washington, D.C., area.

Lubin, an attorney who specializes in developments utilizing the federal EB-5 program, an immigrant investor program, purchased the Eola in late 2014.

The historic hotel was closed soon after the sale and has sat vacant since.

Its closure has caused concern for downtown residents and business owners who feel the property’s vacant status doesn’t look good particularly given its location at a key downtown intersection.

Natchez attorney Tony Heidelberg, who is representing Lubin, said he does not want to present the proposal to the Natchez Planning Commission without the owner and developers there.

“The reason we want the main guys to be there is to provide insight for questions,” Heidelberg said.

“My job is to make sure it comports with the ordinance, but they’ll provide much more detail.”

Giani said Tuesday the presentation’s details are crucial to the proposal’s approval. Giani said he recommends the commission deny the existing proposal for developing the building.

The snow delay may give the developers time to prepare their presentation to answer Giani’s objections.

“What they submitted for first-floor plans were not up to the development code standards of what’s acceptable in the central business district,” Giani said.

The business district is supposed to be pedestrian-friendly, Giani said, and buildings with apartments on higher floors are expected to have commercial or public space on the ground floor.

“We need a clarification on public and open spaces on the first floor,” Giani said. “And whether there are any commercial spaces on the first floor.”

The plans specifically mention a restaurant that is open to the public, but other spaces say “resident” or “tenant,” which implies the public would not access those areas.

Giani said he would also need clarification on whether the upper floors would be accessible to non-tenants.

“We need to classify it as a mixed-use building (to conform to zoning regulations)” Giani said. “The first floor has to be ironed out as commercial or open to the public. Then they can just do the residence above like they proposed.”

Heidelberg said the plans conform to the zoning code, and he expects verbal clarifications at the planning commission meeting to answer those questions well enough for them to approve the existing plan.

“It’s a mixed-use property zoned (as a business) in the historic district,” Heidelberg said. “We feel the plan we submitted to them clearly identifies our plan to make that first floor comply with the ordinance.”

Heidelberg said the code has no requirement for what percentage of the floor must be for public use, just that the first floor must be accessible to the public.

He said the main lobby and one restaurant will be public, but the fitness center, arcade, and another dining area will be for apartment tenants only.

“Those who want to can come in and peruse through, eat at the restaurant, etc.,” Heidelberg said.