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Council decides on Hyatt, Antonio's

Conflicting business and neighborhood concerns evaluated

Two difficult -- and drawn out -- Palo Alto issues pitting businesses against neighbors gained some measure of resolution Monday night.

The City Council certified the Environmental Impact Report for the Hyatt's proposed development of 185 homes on its 16-acre property at El Camino Real and Charleston Road. The report examines the possible consequences of the project -- from increased traffic to effects on the soil -- and sets forth contingencies for alleviating those problems.

The report is required under state law.

The council also OK'd a conditional use permit so that Antonio's Nut House, a popular watering hole on California Avenue, could stay in business.

Although both issues received the council's unanimous approval, the discussions at times turned weighty. The city's economic woes were clearly on the minds of some council members, who bemoaned the replacement of the Hyatt Rickey's hotel with housing.

Hotel taxes are particularly lucrative for the city.

Council member Jack Morton made the motion to certify the Hyatt report, but said he did it "with profound sadness."

"What we have before us is a project that will put more demand on city services ... and at the same time, it reduces funds available for those services," he said.

Council member Vic Ojakian likewise felt an all-housing development was less preferable than one that also could generate taxes, like retail. Ojakian warned the council to beware of losing future opportunities for economic growth.

"Once you develop something, it's gone," he said.

Some residents who spoke in favor of the certification, and the Hyatt, bristled over how long it had taken. The Hyatt began working on the report five years ago, went through numerous hearings, and was caught up in last year's nine-month moratorium on development along the Charleston corridor. One speaker cast blame for the project's delay on the Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association.

"We're holding up housing, we're holding up business progress by not approving these things quicker," said Kelly Germa, a Midtown resident. "I think we're having small interest groups be able to hold up a development that is very responsible, in my view."

Council member Jim Burch, however, had stern words for the Hyatt.

"The idea that somehow this council, or this process, or this staff is in any way responsible for it being five years, I reject out of hand," Burch said. "If this project had come forward the way it's construed now when I was running (for council) in 1999, people would be living in those homes today, rather than still here talking about it."

In the end, the council approved the report with the added restriction that the Hyatt would not be able to return to the city with any plan that exceeded 185 homes. The vote was 8-0, with Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto absent.

Detailed plans for the residential project will be reviewed by the Architectural Review Board and a subdivision application by the Planning and Transportation Commission before receiving final approval from the council.

As for Antonio's Nut House, it won approval to continue operating, in spite of the protests of neighbors in the nearby Birch Court Condominiums over late-night noise and other public disturbances. The vote was 7-0, with Morton recused and Kishimoto absent.

Last year, city staff proposed limiting Antonio's hours of operation and instituting 12 conditions by which the bar/restaurant and pool hall had to comply. Conditions included educating Antonio's patrons about being quieter once they left the bar, having a security person seven days a week after 10 p.m., serving food along with the alcohol, meeting with neighbors twice a year and restricting clean-up hours.

The bar currently is open till 2 a.m., seven days a week.

However, Antonio's owner Tony Montooth appealed that director's hearing, and countered with the request reviewed on Monday night. His counter-proposal included having a security guard only three nights a week, and removing the requirement to install a security camera.

Council members wrestled with the idea of limiting Antonio's hours, trying to balance the needs of the neighbors with those of the 31-year-old establishment. City staff had initially proposed a midnight closing Sunday through Thursday, which would be extended till 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. The Planning and Transportation Commission, however, reinstated the hours, recommending it be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. every night.

Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell proposed having Antonio's close at midnight on Sunday, but Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg questioned the fairness of that restriction, saying other bars stayed open late. She later agreed to the constraint, hoping it would give neighbors "some comfort."

An idea raised by city staff to limit parking in the lot between the condominium complex and Antonio's, where much of the noise originates, did not receive council support.

Montooth called the restricted Sunday hours "not fair. No one else has to do it.... It'll kill the whole Sunday night."

Asking patrons to leave at midnight, he said, was like "going to a movie and walking out in the middle."

He seemed resigned to comply, however, even though hiring a security guard to work seven days a week would be an added expense. "I have to live with it."

Peter Holland, president of the condominium association, said residents would be disappointed by the council's decision.

"We don't feel it's as beneficial to us as the director's hearing (conditions)," he said. He hoped that it would not fall on the neighbors' shoulders to enforce the law, but that police would be responsive.

The decision, he said, showed the council is "reluctant to place restrictions on businesses."

Like Montooth, he said he could only hope for the best.

Antonio's has 30 days to meet the conditions of the permit. In four months, the city's planning director will review Antonio's practices to make sure it is complying with the restrictions. If it is not, the city can revoke its permit.

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