MIDDLETOWN – The replacement of the former KJ’s Restaurant & Pub at 59 Aquidneck Avenue with a new four-story KJs Hotel is still in the works, although demolition and new construction won’t take place this year.
The owners of the property, Jack Gullison and Bonnie Zimble, closed KJ’s Pub more than three years ago, in October 2017, to make way for the hotel.
The permitting process has been lengthy, but it is expected to wrap up this coming summer, according to attorney Jay Lynch, who has been representing Gullison in the process. He is still a co-owner with Zimble but his name is the only one on the permitting applications, Lynch said.
The hotel is going through the town’s Development Plan Review that is conducted by the Technical Review Committee. The TRC has asked for revisions in the plan. Once that is complete, the plan is subject to approval of the Planning Board, which would make a recommendation to the Zoning Board.
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“Once we get through the TRC, we’ll hopefully be at the Planning Board meeting in June,” Lynch said. “We’d like to go before the Zoning Board of Review in June as well, which might be overly optimistic, but that’s the plan.”
It will be up to the Zoning Board whether to grant the hotel a special use permit. The owner is also seeking a waiver on some of the landscaping design standards set by the town.
The plans before the TRC show a four-floor building. The ground level is for parking and is screened by the façade design. A restaurant, event space and kitchen are on the second floor, rooms one through nine are on the third floor, and rooms 10 through 17 are on the fourth floor.
“We’ve scaled the project down since the initial application,” Lynch said. One example of that is the initially proposed 18 rooms became 17.
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“We had some delays getting state Department of Transportation approval,” Lynch said. “Then, once we redesigned the parking, we had to go back to DOT for a physical alteration permit. We’ve been dealing with those issues.”
There is no target date yet to begin construction, but it won’t be this year, Lynch said.
“If you talk to anyone in the construction industry, it’s not a good time to build right now,” he said. “Costs are through the roof – materials are extremely expensive. Ask a builder what a 2×4 costs and it’s maybe tripled since before COVID.
The building has been leased out for this summer into next year to an entrepreneur who hopes to set up a restaurant there, Lynch said.
“We figure that even if we get final approvals by the end of the summer, by the time you schedule demolition and then construction, it’s going to be a while,” he said.
The property is located in the Limited Business District of lower Aquidneck Avenue, which is a traffic-sensitive zoning district, according to plans on file with the Planning Department. The property, not too far from Atlantic Beach, is partially located within the FEMA designated 100-year floodplain, but the location of the proposed building is not, a planning document says.
The town’s Commercial Development Design Standards calls for buildings to be “designed to include traditional New England architectural elements. This in
cludes, but is not limited to, peaked roof, wood-frame, and other styles consistent with colonial through early twentieth-century period architecture. Facades of a building, particularly the front facade, should consist of or resemble traditional building materials such as clapboard, shingles, brick, or stone.”
The architect for the building is Dan Herchenroether, who owns the architectural firm, Herk Works. He has submitted a series of renderings for the hotel that seem to conform to what the design standards call for, with shingles and clapboard siding, for example.
Lynch said the final design details like siding have not been set though.
Herchenroether also designed the planned 21-room Manchester Hotel on Lee’s Wharf that is expected to begin construction this summer with a grand opening targeted for 2023.
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