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Tri-Cities developer wants Kennewick to allow boutique hotels

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The house that sits on top of Thompson Hill in south Kennewick was built 1971. The landowner and developer Jose Chavallo tried last year to rezone the land to allow for a boutique hotel.

Courtesy Coldwell Banker Tomlinson

A Tri-Cities developer could be taking another crack at adding a boutique hotel on his Kennewick hilltop property.

Last year, Tri-Cities developer Jose Chavallo came to the Kennewick City Council with an ambitious plan to develop his land on Thompson Hill into a small hotel and to add some condos to part of the south side of the hill.

The 2021 development proposal ultimately failed to gain council approval after fierce neighborhood pushback about the condos, but Chavallo is now asking for the council to consider a zoning change to define boutique hotels within the city.

Chavallo’s latest attempt is a much narrower request.

The documents filed so far are only asking the city to define boutique hotels and allow them to be used anywhere traditional hotels can be built, as well as in commercial neighborhood zones — which are areas that allow businesses to be developed for services in residential areas.

The scope of this request would allow Chavallo to operate the hilltop property as a hotel, but at this time he has not proposed any development packages — only a definition for boutique hotels.

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The house that sits on top of Thompson Hill in south Kennewick was built 1971. The landowner and developer Jose Chavallo tried last year to rezone the land to allow for a boutique hotel. Courtesy Coldwell Banker Tomlinson

An environmental impact study was cleared by the state of Washington, and the city is now asking for public comments on the change.

Chavallo could not be reached this week about his plans for the property.

The city’s Community Planning Director Anthony Muai told the Herald that a public comment period opened Thursday and closes on March 3. Anyone interested in commenting can contact the city’s planning department. After that, the proposal will go before the planning commission and, if approved, before the city council.

It’s tentatively scheduled for a March 21 planning commission hearing and possibly to the council in April.

Boutique definition

Under the proposed changes, a boutique hotel would be defined as a smaller, upscale hotel with a maximum of 100 rooms that provides personalized services, is in a structure that includes unique architectural characteristics and furnishings and is on a site that offers views or on a waterfront or has cultural amenities.

It would also be required to provide an outdoor amenity available to both guests and the public.

Thompson Hill overall.jpg
In 2021, the Panoramic Heights Homeowners Association opposing the proposed high density residential development of 40 acres along the south side of Thompson Hill in Kennewick. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Outdoor amenities could include bicycle and pedestrian trails that connect with an off-site trail system, gardens, an outdoor amphitheater, a dock or access to the river.

Boutique hotels would be required to have a covered public entrance that protects guests from the elements.

Entrances also would be required to have a signature element of the hotel articulated with architectural details — such as columns, porticos and overhangs — and include a water feature, sculpture or public art.

Thompson Hill

Chavallo has been trying to develop his hilltop land for more than a decade.

Property records show he bought the home perched on top of the hill south Kennewick for $850,000 in February 2009. At the time, it was known as 360 Cellars Estate Bed & Breakfast.

His first attempt to develop the property came the same year, and would have included changes to allow a boutique hotel complex, fine dining restaurant, meeting/ballroom facility, day spa, wine tasting shops and small resort-related retail shops.

That bid failed but he tried again in 2010 and 2011, and was voted down each time. The 3,400-square-foot home, built in 1971 by Ken Thompson, was listed for sale about eight years ago, but never sold.

Last year, Chavallo brought the city a more ambitious plan to develop 40 acres, including adding the hotel.

Thompson_Hill_Dispute
Kennewick City Council voted in 2021 against allowing a hotel, restaurant and condos to be built on Tri-Cities’ Thompson Hill. Neighbors opposed the development that developer Jose Chavallo has been advocating for years. Jennifer King [email protected]

Chavallo asked for the city to rezone the land from low density to high-density residential to allow a hotel with a restaurant, spa and high-end meeting spaces, as well as a development that would have included 350 high-end condos on the south side.

He told the Herald at the time that under his current zoning he already can have a free-standing restaurant by filing additional documents, but was seeking the high-density because he says it was the only zoning that will allow the boutique hotel and condos.

Neighbors, particularly in Panoramic Heights, fiercely opposed the high-density designation, fearing the land use change could allow as many as 1,100 apartments or other housing units on the hillside.

At the time, the Kennewick Planning Commission voted unanimously against amending the city’s comprehensive land use plan to allow Chavallo’s project and city staff also had recommended against it.

And in May 2021, the city council voted 5-1 to deny the zoning change though several said they supported aspects of the project.

“We need to figure out a way to make this happen,” Councilman Bill McKay said at the time. The Tri-Cities businessman and developer, who is now the mayor, was the sole vote supporting it.

Two other councilmen who voted against that proposal are no longer on the council.

This story was originally published February 19, 2022 12:12 PM.

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Cory is an award-winning investigative reporter. He joined the Tri-City Herald in Dec. 2021 as an Editor/Reporter covering housing and development. His past work can be found in the Tyler Morning Telegraph and other Texas newspapers. He was a 2019-20 Education Writers Association Fellow, and has been featured on The Murder Tapes, Grave Mysteries and Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen.