After serving Palo Alto for more than half a century, Palo Alto's only bowling alley will soon be demolished to make way for a new hotel.
The City Council voted 7-2 Monday night, with Vice Mayor Jack Morton and Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto dissenting, to approve a proposal by Aaron Barger of Barry Swenson Builders to replace the bowling alley at 4309 El Camino Real with a new development featuring a 167-room hotel and 26 three-story townhouses.
The project received the green light despite pleas and protests from local bowlers and pangs of nostalgia from the council.
More than a dozen area residents attended the meeting in a last-ditch effort to save the bowling alley.
Bowler Mary Howland called Palo Alto Bowl a truly "unique" facility.
"It's a place where there are older people and younger people, people of all religions and all races," Howland said. "I don't know of any place in Palo Alto that offers this kind of recreation."
Resident Kirsten Essenmacher also urged the council to "save Palo Alto Bowl."
"Palo Alto doesn't need more hotels and condos," Essenmacher said. "We need to save this invaluable resource in our city for current residents and future generations."
Council members shared the residents' sentiments and said they were sad to lose Palo Alto Bowl. Pat Burt said his family has been bowling there for three generations. Yiaway Yeh said he celebrated his 30th birthday there. Larry Klein said his children and grandchildren also had their birthday parties there.
But the majority ultimately agreed that the proposed project was what the city envisioned when it rezoned the site about three years ago to allow commercial development.
"I think it's a community asset and I'll be sorry to see it go," Klein said. "But the City of Palo Alto doesn't own Palo Alto Bowl."
Klein also said the approval process for the project has been a "model one," featuring numerous commission reviews, extensive outreach to the surrounding neighborhood and application changes based on feedback from critics.
The council members also agreed that the project is a much-needed revenue generator at a time when hotel revenues are plummeting. Staff estimated that the new hotel would generate about $850,000 a year in transient-occupancy taxes, which the city gets from hotel stays. Revenues from these taxes plummeted by 10.8 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2009.
Construction on the new hotel is scheduled to begin in fall of 2010, Jim Baer, a member of the development team, told the council.
Morton and Kishimoto, both of whom concluded their eight-year tenures on the City Council Monday night, cast the only votes against the project. Morton characterized the proposed development as too massive and unattractive. He called for landscaping improvements and a more modulated frontage.
"I cannot, on (my) last night after eight years, support another wall on El Camino," Morton said. But his suggestion to send the project back to the Architectural Review Board for further revisions failed to win support.
The project also includes a new pedestrian and bicycle path along the eastern edge of the property, connecting Monroe Drive and Cesano Court. The new path would create a safer passage for children who currently use El Camino Real to travel to school, Planning Director Curtis Williams said Monday.
The city's Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission had both approved the project in recent weeks. Councilman John Barton argued Monday that if the City Council doesn't follow suit it would risk a lawsuit from the developer.
"Like many political decisions, we're faced with the challenge of what's the right thing to do and the legal thing to do," Barton said. "I appreciate Palo Alto Bowl, I used it, but the real question is not saving Palo Alto Bowl but the zoning rights of the property owners."