Portsmouth – XSS Hotels LLC has received several major approvals from the City Planning Board needed to move forward with plans to build a five-story, 124-room hotel along North Mill Pond and an adjacent mixed-use development of 32 apartments.
The Board of Directors voted unanimously to grant approval for the project’s site layout and conditional use permit (CUP) for on-site parking during its meeting Thursday evening.
Prior to taking these votes, the Board discussed at length whether the CUP would be awarded to a developer plan to work within the wetland buffer zone to redevelop the site.
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The board ultimately voted 6-3 to award CUP to the wetlands, with board members Peter Whelan, Peter Harris and Rick Chilman opposing.
The project is still under review by the city’s Historic District Commission, the final approval the project needs.
What is going to happen and what is to come
XSS Hotels LLC, which is redeveloping the site with Procon Inc. , to demolish three existing but much smaller buildings on the site in order to clear the way for new development.
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Building addresses are 31 Raynes Ave. and 203 Maplewood Ave. and 1 Raynes Ave.
The new project will be located near the intersection of Raynes and Maplewood Roads while backing up at points to North Mill Pond.
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The developers recently reduced the number of apartments at the planned market price of the second building – planned to be four floors with penthouses – from 64 to 32 units.
The developers plan to reduce the amount of impermeable surface on the site by more than 7,000 square feet and install a “modern rainwater treatment system,” Eben Tormey, project manager at XSS Hotels, said recently during a side tour.
Currently, rainwater from the site is moving directly into the North Mill Pond without treatment, he said.
“We are very pleased” with the board’s decision, Tormy said. “The approval was the product of a comprehensive review process by city land use authorities and city employees that resulted in a project that would be a major improvement for the North End.”
“The mixed-use building and hotel will complement other recent developments and provide additional vitality to the neighborhood,” he said. “We are excited about this project and the opportunity to transform the long-neglected stretch of the North Mill Pond waterfront into a welcoming and safe place for the public to enjoy.”
Turmy added that XSS Hotels “is very pleased to be a part of making the North Mill Pond Greenway and mixed-use pathway a reality for the city.”
Working in wetlands
During Thursday’s hearing, Planning Council Vice President and elected city councilor Elizabeth Morrow acknowledged that the board’s decision on awarding the wetland buffer was a “difficult decision.”
“It makes this site better in many ways… Like they are going to pay to take care of this in the long term, they are going to keep the road green, and they are going to maintain the mooring systems,” she said of the development, “They are going to maintain this in the long term, so it’s all positive. “.
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She acknowledged that the buildings are “fairly large” but disagreed with those who believed that developers must “absolutely meet all criteria” for a CUP wetland award.
“I think we’ve agreed to a lot more projects that we’re doing than negotiating,” she said.
Board member Colby Gamester questioned those who said “individuals, people, humans should not use the buffer because I believe it goes against the purpose of the buffer”.
“Not just for water. That’s what can be done in the buffer,” said Gamester. “If this whole building was in the buffer zone, I think we would all agree we would deny it, but it is not.”
He also noted that the board had talked “countless times” about whether owners should be allowed to build in the buffer, and they said they could.
“This building, with the exception of a part of it, is not in the buffer zone,” he noted.
Board member Corey Clark stressed that North Mill Pond is indeed a “weak body of water”.
“If this was an original site, that would be one thing,” he said, “and we don’t want to bother with this or anything like that.” “This is definitely not an original site, it’s a completely man-made site from top to bottom and I think what they’re suggesting is to bring it back to something normal.
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“I think in general what they’re suggesting to do is not only help this particular site but it helps the health of North Mill Pond,” he added.
Schilman agreed that the proposed development includes “some significant (positive) environmental improvements to the site.” But because they’re building in a buffer zone wetland, developers must meet all six criteria to get a CUP, not just some, he said.
“This is not a discretionary list,” he said, while later adding that developers “can still build a large project” without affecting the wetland buffer zone.
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Whelan, who also serves on the city council, spoke about the importance of not deviating from CUP standards for wetlands.
“There’s a reason we have a 100-foot buffer zone of wetlands,” he said. “This council shouldn’t be arrogant about that.”
Whelan referred to the site’s conditions and said, “This is not a Superfund site, but there are problems on the site.”
“When the excavation and work on it begins, it will be a real problem,” he said. “We’ll have more pollutants going to North Mill Pond.”