Lambertville Inn owners want four-story addition

Project calls for 58 more guest rooms, spa and banquet facility for 175.

By: Linda Seida
   LAMBERTVILLE — Expansion plans for the Inn at the Lambertville Station call for the addition of office space, 58 more guest rooms for a total of 104, a spa for the exclusive use of the inn’s guests and a banquet facility with 175 seats, 50 more than the current capacity.
   The Planning Board deemed the expansion plans complete Nov. 6 and began hearing testimony about the details from the inn’s architect, landscape architect and civil engineer. The testimony is a necessary step before gaining the board’s final approval.
   Public hearings will be scheduled in the coming months.
   "There will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns," board member Christopher Colt said.
   The plan to expand, which first came before the board last month, is scaled down from a similar plan presented in 1995, according to Kevin J. Moore, an attorney with the Princeton firm of Saul Ewing. The earlier plan called for the construction of five more buildings of various heights and met with some opposition from residents. It included the addition of a 300-seat banquet room, retail space, office space and six guest suites, among other items.
   The revised plan calls for a four-story addition, including an enclosed parking garage on the ground floor. The garage would be used only by guests and would have space for about 150 stacked spaces. "Stacked" refers to the method of parking rows of vehicles closely together, one directly behind another and accessible to valet parking attendants only.
   The total number of exterior parking spaces would not change from the approximately 120 that are there now.
   "The result is a dramatically reduced proposal," Mr. Moore said.
   The plans before the board feature approximately half as much expansion as the earlier plan, according to Paul Swartz, a senior partner in the Somerville firm of USA Architects. He contrasted the old plan’s 110,000 square feet of requested expansion with the current plan’s expansion area of 66,000 square feet, which does not include parking. Also, the new plan makes no mention of retail space, but "there was a significant amount the last go round," Mr. Swartz said.
   While retail space is gone this time, an appreciation of the inn’s scenic surroundings remains, according to Mr. Swartz.
   "The view of the river is preserved," he said, adding the expansion would "minimally affect any of the current views that we have today."
   Plans for the site’s riverfront include a plaza area featuring benches, reflecting ponds and landscaping. In addition, an area of scrub would be cleared out, said landscape architect Ronald J. Walker. He also would like to remove failing Norway maples from the site and replace them with shade trees indigenous to the state.
   Despite the expansion proposal’s smaller scope and Mr. Swartz’s reassurances views of the Delaware River would be preserved, board member Steve Stegman still had concerns. He wanted "a way to have the people who live here get closer to the river and enjoy that space. It really is a beautiful space."
   In response, Mr. Moore and Mr. Swartz repeated the site would be open to the general public.
   City planner Brian Slaugh disagreed.
   "Its design, at best, is semi-public, not really a public space," he said.
   "It doesn’t feel public," he added, comparing the proposed site to impressions gleaned from visits to similarly designed hotels. He recommended a deck be added for the public’s use.
   "This plan has about 40 percent of the development of the 1995 plan but the design for the public areas in this plan is a good deal less than that," he said in his report to the board.
   Mr. Slaugh’s report also questioned the plan for enclosed parking on the ground level, which he described as "valet service with vehicles stacked three and four deep."
   The plan, he said, "appears to rely upon a certain percentage of compact cars in order to achieve the desired number of spaces. It is not clear if the projected number of spaces can be provided if this assumption does not hold true, particularly if larger, sport utility vehicles, are factored in."
   Mr. Slaugh also noted more handicapped spots might be needed.
   The plan makes no use of the old Ferrellgas site, a 1-acre tract owners previously wanted to turn into a parking lot of 97 spaces. There are no plans in the works for the site at this time, according to Dan Whitaker, who co-owns the inn and restaurant with Mike Dougherty, siblings Rose DiMarco and Skip Di Marco, and their father, Tony DiMarco.
   "It’s been a long 10 years in the process," Mr. Whitaker said of the plans to expand, adding he and the other owners celebrated the 20th anniversary of their partnership Nov. 2.
   "We’ve tried to listen to what the public wanted, and I think we’ve done that," he said. "I’m very excited about the plan. I think it will be very good for the city of Lambertville."
   The city’s Chamber of Commerce had no comment on the proposed expansion, but a statement might be forthcoming after the next meeting of the chamber’s board of directors, according to office manager Ellen Pineno.
   "Mr. Whitaker sits on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce and has been a valuable member of that board for the past four years," she said.