Hotel proposal moves ahead

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By John Barnhart

Action by Bedford County's planning commission, Monday, cleared the way for a hotel/conference center to be built near the National D-Day Memorial.

Nearly all the hotel's site is in the city limits and Bedford's zoning for that area allows the hotel as a use by right. A half acre of the site, however, is in Bedford County and that part is zoned AR (agricultural/residential). Norris Blanks, the hotel's developer, asked for it to be rezoned C-2 (general commercial).

The four-story hotel will be a Hampton Inn and will have between 80 and 88 rooms and a 1,000 square foot conference room. It will be located on a tract behind the Citgo station on Burks Hill Road.

Although the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) prefers that the hotel's access to Burks Hill Road be via Roberts Lane, Blanks would rather go directly onto Burks Hill, something that the layout of the track allows. Blanks said that, during a neighborhood meeting, neighbors were concerned about hotel traffic going down Roberts Lane and Blanks said that he promised them that would not happen. He said that he doesn't want to break the promise he made.

Blanks noted that the Citgo station already has a substantial entry and exit directly onto Burks Hill Road and his hotel's access would be right beside it.

He chose this location because of its proximity to the Welcome Center and the D-Day Memorial. Blanks said that the tract is a tricky site, but there are no sites in the area that are level and easy to develop.

Although the hotel will be 49-feet tall, it will be at a lower grade than the Citgo station, so its top won't be much higher than the existing gas station. The boundary with the neighbors will be fenced and the site will be landscaped.

"Landscaping is something we would rather overdo than underdo," Blanks commented.

The half-acre of the site in Bedford County will be primarily part of the parking lot. A preliminary drawing of the building shows only a small corner of the building extending into the county. It also has the Citgo station's sign, the gas station owner has an easement that allows his sign on the property. Blanks hopes to utilize the pole that the Citgo sign is on, placing his Hampton Inn sign below it. This would avoid having to put up another sign pole.

Most speakers at the public hearing were strongly supportive of the project. Martin Leamy, the memorial's site manager, said that the hotel/conference center would attract military reunion groups. If completed in time, it will also provide an additional local place for visitors to stay when they come for the 65th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2009. It will be a significant anniversary that will draw a large crowd.

Blanks said that he would love to have the hotel open by that time.

"We anticipate this will be the last big gathering of D-Day veterans," Leamy said.

Andy Dooley said that the Bedford Moose Lodge hosts events that bring people from all over the United States. He said that a number of people specifically ask for a Hampton Inn, which means he has to refer them to Lynchburg.

"I don't like giving my money to the city of Lynchburg," Dooley said. "I want it to stay in Bedford."

William De Weese, president of The Electric Company, also wants to see the hotel there. He, along with Patti Siehien, purchased the old city electric department headquarters, on Depot Street, and filled it with businesses that include the Artisan Cafe and Art on Depo. He and Siehien also have plans for a second restaurant in the building. De Weese said that he would like to see some of the visitors, who come to the D-Day Memorial, to stick around and support other local businesses.

Garry Martin owns a Southern Insurance agency located directly across Burks Hill Road from its intersection with Roberts Lane.

"I welcome it," he said of the hotel/conference center.

"We also support this rezoning for a hotel," said Susan Martin, president of the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce.

Martin said that Bedford needs a good, moderately priced hotel and that it will be a great benefit for local economic development.

Vera Claytor, who lives in a residential neighborhood across U. S. 460 from the proposed hotel, was concerned. She is worried about the impact of lights and noise from the hotel on her neighborhood.

Blanks, however, said that the hotel will physically block light from the Citgo station and its lighting will be nothing like that at the gas station. He also said that the hotel will generate less noise than the highway does. It will employ security both inside and outside and said that making sure there are no noisy parties in the parking lot is in its best interest. If the place is noisy, other guests will complain and that would be bad for business.

District 6 Planning Commissioner Robin Hartman noted that, for once, the commission has a project that has no impact on schools and will have a positive impact on business. She said it is a good plan in a good location.

"We need all the good commercial development we can get," commented District 2 Planning commissioner Lynn Barnes.

"I think it's a great thing," said District 1 Planning Commissioner Rick Crockett. "Obviously we need to approve this plan."

The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning to the board of supervisors.

"It's the best thing in the world that's happened since the D-Day Memorial," commented Sergei Troubetzkoy, the area's director of tourism, after the vote.

Troubetzkoy said that one of his goals, since coming on the job last summer, was to bring additional hotels into the area. He said that Hampton Inns are very popular and a number of people stop at the Welcome Center looking for one.