Sensitive infill a strategy for Hampton Inns?


I've spent a lot of time in Hampton Inns over the last year -- one in the historic district of Savannah, Georgia, one a block away from Main Street in East Aurora, New York, and one next to an Autoroute in the industrial and office park wasteland north of Montreal's Dorval Airport. Driving around downtown Buffalo, I noticed a new Hampton Inn at the corner of Delaware and Chippewa, in the heart of a lively entertainment district. These hotels were all built in the last few years.

What is striking about the Hampton Inns built in urban areas is how well adapted they are to their surroundings. The technical term for this is "sensitive infill". I wonder whether this is a strategic choice by the hotel owners or by the chain, and to what degree local zoning regulations mandated design choices.

The hotel in downtown Buffalo is built right up to the street corner, with street-level retail space that complements the older retail buildings on the other corners. The downtown Savannah location pays homage to its historic neighbors with the exterior materials and details. The Savannah hotel also comes up to the sidewalk on Bay Street, provides parking for guests beneath the hotel, and uses a nearby municipal garage for overflow, rather than surrounding itself with a large suburban-style surface lot.

The East Aurora location was built last year on the site of a factory. The hotel is a three story brick building, topped with a cupola. The building sits right next to Olean Street; parking is at the back of the hotel. The main entrance is close enough to the street to provide easy pedestrian access from the hotel to Main Street shops and restaurants -- no need to cross a sea of asphalt and dodge cars to get anywhere. There are residences adjacent to and across the street.

I'm especially impressed by their efficient and considerate outdoor lighting design. There's a six-foot privacy fence separating the parking lot from an adjacent home. The parking lot lights are full-cutoff fixtures (all light is directed downwards), mounted on the fence about five feet off the ground. All the light goes where it's needed, preventing wasted energy, and the guests and nearby residents don't have to deal with bright sodium lights shining in bedroom windows. There are a couple of taller fixtures with an antique appearance. In these, the light source is recessed into the top of the fixture, once again directing the light down to the ground where it's useful, not into the eyes of a driver, like the obnoxious "acorn" antique-style lights that have become so obnoxiously ubiquitous. The hotel parking lot shares a border with a cemetery, and here they've added side reflectors to the taller fixtures to keep the cemetery dark at night.

I know that Savannah has some strict rules for its historic district, and I suspect the same is true for East Aurora and downtown Buffalo. A hotel can be a good neighbor to a residential area, if there are rules in place to protect against real nuisances that can arise with incompatible development, and if those rules are enforced by the city and embraced by the developer. It seems to me that the hotel developer in East Aurora went the extra mile to mitigate the hotel's impact on its neighbors.

Meanwhile, Tulsa's zoning code "protects" against "problems" that aren't really problems, while permitting juxtapositions that really do harm nearby property values and a neighborhood's character. Our code often throws roadblocks in the way of developers who want to do something creative and well-adapted to its surroundings while giving the green light to projects that don't fit. As development in Tulsa increasingly moves from greenfield development to infill, we need to take a closer look at this for the sake of all property owners. There appear to be plenty of cities to look to as good role models.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 26, 2004 6:02 AM.

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