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 4214 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(ARB) meeting, is the fourth hotel application the city has received in the past two years, though one has since been withdrawn.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 Norz, 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.

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Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:42 am

Just what we need...another frickin hotel!?!

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 16, 2011 at 10:56 am

Hotels are fine with me - they pay more taxes than other businesses and have less negative impacts (traffic and noise) that other businesses.

The ironic thing here is the old Rickey's Hyatt should still be a hotel.

Like this comment
Posted by TriptB
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I would encourage everyone on the board to visit the intersection of Arastradero/Charleston and El Camino on a weekday morning. This area is congested with cars to the point where a major intersection is bottlenecked in the morning rush hour. If we have to have new development, large scale high density is not the way to go.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Don't build up to the street!!

I don't like the way the JCC and the Elks have done it as well as Arbor Real and it looks like we are having the same issue with the new development on Alma Plaza.

Let's keep the streets looking pleasant and open with parking near the street and the buildings set back.

Like this comment
Posted by maditalian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm

The Elks Club didn't want to situate where it currently sits. The City wanted the building there.

Like this comment
Posted by tbromine
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2011 at 12:21 am

Set back! (Common sense, particularly on a main thoroughfare.) If this is not an ARB requirement, what else matters?

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:41 am

Unfortunately the general plan requires limited setback from El Camino, with the stated intention of limiting parking lots in front of buildings. This is supposed to encourage "interaction" with pedestrians via inviting storefronts and vistas, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way.

Wait until you see the hotel that will be replacing the bowling alley - it, too, will be close to the street, towering over people walking by.

Like this comment
Posted by viper
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 17, 2011 at 6:07 am

Higher density is just fine with me - better than dispersed, unattractive sprawl retread. The tax revenue from the hotel will be welcome. The street offset complaints are silly and area likely coming from the same place all "I fear change" complaints come from in Palo Alto - annoying baby boomers who resist EVERYTHING. Please go away. The world has had enough of the "selfish" generation.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2011 at 7:25 am

I have a 7:01am breakfast habit. How will this affect my favorite Hobee's?

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The urban design theory is having stretches of _retail_ buildings close to the street -- rather than behind parking lots. Part of it is making it easier to walk from one to the other. But a big part is that large store windows and the activity on the other side creates a "welcoming" environment for pedestrians. What the theory warns strongly against is having primarily residential buildings in such stretches because they negate the desired effects. They create stretches where there is nothing of interest, thereby discouraging pedestrians. But more importantly, the sound walls (free standing or integral to the housing) create a forbidding feeling, and increase, rather than reduce, the perceptual mass of the buildings.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when reasonable guidelines get reduced to simplistic slogans and then treated as unquestionable principles.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Dec 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

PA City Council first promotes and buys off on reductions in number of traffic lanes on streets all over the City, Arastradero and East Charleston included. And now they want tax money, so lets approve a hotel now but I'm sure it will be after spending hundreds of thousands or more on traffic studies and EIR reports.
Common sense would tell anyone that reducing traffic lanes and then increasing the number of car trips in an area will have a impact in a negative way.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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