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Shenandoah council again holds off on new hotel permit

August 9, 2018

The saga of the Shenandoah Hampton Inn continued Wednesday night as the City Council tabled a possible action on a special use permit sought by local hotel owner Grace Jacobson until their Sept. 12 meeting.

The council initially failed to approve the SUP, with council members Ted Fletcher, Byron Bevers and Ron Raymaker voting against approval. Early on in the discussion about the issue, Raymaker introduced a motion to deny the application, which if approved would have started a 6-month waiting period before Jacobson could reapply for development.

Council Member Charlie Bradt said he believed the benefits the hotel would bring to to Shenandoah would, “Outweigh any negative things.”

Shenandoah Community Development Officer Jackie Thompson said this is the second time this year that the council opted to postpone approving or denying the SUP to Jacobson, who was awarded a similar SUP in 2016 and then denied one in October 2017 due to a lack of clarity in the application.

With another Hampton Inn already operating in Shenandoah, Raymaker said he felt that the redudant services offered would hurt both businesses.

“Approving this hotel and allowing both hotels to remain doesn’t seem to be getting us to a ‘rebirth,’” Raymaker said, referencing Jacobson’s public comments on new development in Shenandoah.

The proposed 5-story Hampton Inn was set to open in April 2019 and would house 106 rooms, a gym, a swimming pool, spa, meeting rooms and banquet facilities. According to Jacobson’s 2018 application, the property would bring in $4.3 to $4.5 million in revenue and would contribute $300,000 in hotel occupancy tax to the city annually.

For Fletcher, the concern came from Jacobson’s past performance in her two other properties in the city.

“I think the asset is valuable — the question for me is the operator, not the asset,” Fletcher said. “We always have to chase the (hotel occupancy) tax down.”

Bevers asked Jacobson to provide information on the Hampton Inn’s potential impact on other hotels in the area at the July 25 meeting where the vote was originally tabled.

The hospitality industry in the greater Woodlands area has thrived since 2014, which coincides with Montgomery County becoming the seventh fastest-growing county in the country, Bevers noted. Because of that growth, the hotel room count in Shenandoah has almost tripled, but the occupancy rate averages at about 53 percent.

“We went (from) roughly 600 to close to 1,800 total rooms,” Bevers said. “I think that this project could very well be a good project, but I’m concerned with the overall community and how many rooms our community can support.”

Council Member Mike McLeod, who voted to approve the permit, expressed concern at the number of limited service hotels in Shenandoah.

“I don’t want to be known as the value spot,” McLeod said. “I don’t want it to be, ‘Well, if you don’t want to stay in The Woodlands, you’ve got this little community just north of it where you can stay for $69 a night.’”

The failure to approve the permit didn’t deny Jacobson’s application; the council will evaluate further reports from Jacobson and make a decision in September.

“We are a diamond,” McLeod said. “I think everyone here recognizes that, and I want our hotels to reflect that.”

mrincon@chron.com

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