Busy Palo Alto intersection could see new hotel
City board members generally like Hilton Garden Inn, but some residents critical
The latest addition to Palo Alto's dynamic hotel scene could soon go up near one of the busiest intersections on the south part of the city.
A four-story Hilton Garden Inn, featuring 176 rooms and various upscale amenities, has been proposed for 4217 El Camino Real, across the street from where the venerable Rickey's Hyatt once stood. The proposal, which received its first review at Thursday's Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting, is the fourth hotel application the city has received in the past two years (see cover story on page 33), though one has since been withdrawn. Unlike the others, it would not need to go through extensive planning commission and council meetings because it would conform to the site's commercial zoning.
The board did not vote on the proposal and had mostly good things to say about the planned design, which includes a U-shaped building and a porte-cochere fronting El Camino Real.
Jeffrey MacAdam from the firm Architectural Dimensions, which presented the plan to the ARB, said the new hotel would have two levels of parking to accommodate 178 parking spaces along with 28 bike racks.
But the proposal by OTO Development also drew some criticisms from area residents and board members, some of whom said they were concerned that the 50-foot-tall building would be too massive for a block currently dominated by shorter structures such as car-rental agencies and a dry-cleaning business. The hotel would stand across the street from Arbor Real, a townhouse development that replaced Rickey's Hyatt.
The Garden Inn would stand just south of the prominent intersection of El Camino and Arastradero Road — an intersection that is frequented by students commuting to Gunn High School, Terman Middle School and several smaller schools. The city is in the midst of a multi-year traffic-calming effort aimed at making the busy stretch of Arastradero west of El Camino safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Four speakers, including three Arbor Real residents, shared with the board their concerns about the project's impact on the intersection. They called for the city to undertake an independent study to evaluate the traffic impacts of the new hotel.
Land-use watchdog Bob Moss was the most vehement critic of the proposed hotel design, saying, "On a good day, I'd call it ghastly." He compared it to the Arbor Real development, which is frequently criticized for its density. The building, he said, is too bulky and should be scaled down by 10 to 20 percent.
"This makes Arbor Real look wonderful," Moss said.
The board was far less critical, though board member Alex Lew concurred that the proposed hotel looks too bulky, even compared to the Arbor Real development.
"It seems like your building might just overwhelm the street, given that you're building up very close to the property line," Lew said.
But Lew also praised the hotel's U-shaped design and said its proposed entryway on El Camino Real complies with the design guidelines for the El Camino corridor. Board member Clare Malone Prichard also said the proposed hotel is generally a good project but encouraged the applicant to make the roof and the lobby more "interesting."
According to a report from city Planner Jason Nortz, the ground floor of the hotel would also include meeting rooms, a patio, meeting rooms, an exercise room, a restaurant and lounge and offices. Guest rooms would be located on the upper floors.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at email@example.com.