Neighbors slam proposed Marriott hotels

Residents say the two hotels eyed for San Antonio Road are too big for the site

A proposal to build two Marriott hotels on the southern edge of Palo Alto got off to a shaky start Thursday morning, when residents from nearby properties panned the project in front of the city's Architectural Review Board.

The plan calls for merging two parcels on San Antonio, just east of Middlefield Road, and building a hotel complex that includes two separate five-story hotels that would be united by an interior court. The 49-foot-tall buildings would go up in an area near the Mountain View border that currently includes a mix of low-density commercial and residential uses.

The project at 744 and [748 San Antonio Road 748 San Antonio Road is still in its early phase and a formal application has yet to be submitted. The city's architectural board had its first look at the project in what's known as a "preliminary hearing," where board members give early feedback but do not vote on the project. The board also heard from numerous speakers who complained that the project is too massive, that it offers insufficient parking and that the two hotels would create a traffic nightmare in their neighborhood.

Board members, for their part, focused largely on the design of the two buildings. They also concluded, however, that the initial design leaves much to be desired. Some of the board's concerns mirrored those of the neighbors, with Vice Chair Robert Gooyer agreeing that the five-story building would be a "sore thumb" for neighboring properties.

"It could be a very nicely designed sore thumb, but it will be a sore thumb to the people around it," Gooyer.

Board Chair Randy Popp participated in the discussion from the opposite side of the dais. Popp, an architect, is a member of the development team that is looking to build the new hotels, a Courtyard by Marriott and an AC by Marriott. It fell to him to present the project to his board colleagues and solicit their comments for revisions.

Popp noted that placing the two buildings next to each other will create efficiencies by allowing them to share amenities, including valet parking. He also emphasized that having the two different hotels would bring some variety to the site and make for a more interesting experience. AC by Marriott brands itself as a hip, cosmopolitan and "ultramodern" destination, while Courtyard has a contemporary feel.

"Our intent is that the architecture is compatible and consistent, but the two buildings are different," Popp said.

Much of the opposition to the new hotels is coming from residents of Greenhouse and Greenhouse 2, two condominium complexes that are located near the site. Nancy Martin, a resident of Greenhouse since 1976, told the board that, in her opinion, "Everything is wrong with this plan." The two buildings are too large for a neighborhood where most of the other structures have one or two stories, she said.

"I think developers would love nothing more than to get their hands on our wonderful property so they can put 500 units in there, other than the 140 we have," Martin said.

She argued that the 235 parking spaces in the plan is insufficient for the two buildings that between them would have 301 rooms. She also complained about the hotels' design, likening them to "Soviet Bloc-era" buildings.

Alex Van Riesen, pastor at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, was part of a group of speakers who attended the meeting to voice concerns about the new hotels. His church currently rents space at 744 San Antonio.

Van Riesen argued that without a broader vision for the area in the southern portion of the city, approving large developments there is premature.

"Is there a plan for mixed-use development that involves local businesses, housing and a development like a hotel, which could be useful?" he asked. "I don't see an overall plan for that, and I don't see how that would fit into the plan. It seems like we're putting the cart before the horse."

Board members agreed that the new hotels would clash with the surrounding buildings and urged the applicant to refine the design. Board member Alex Lew observed that the project is "so completely different than the context."

"I'll have to look really hard at the project to find ways in which it's compatible with adjacent properties," Lew said.

Gooyer characterized the project as "a large box in an area that is either low-key commercial or residential." While the area is expected to ultimately get redeveloped and see an increase in density (Palo Alto's official housing-vision document, the Housing Element, includes both San Antonio parcels on its list of locations for future housing), most developments on the site today are modest in size and density.

"It's much tougher for someone to come into this area and do a first project in a new concept and try to make it fit," Gooyer said. "If you're the first one on the block to do it, that's great, but don't expect to max out everything and get it to work. You're going to get objections of the neighbors, and that's what's happening this morning."

Given the high standard, Gooyer urged Popp to spare no money in making this a first-class building.

"It really has to be an A1-plus example," Gooyer said.

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Like this comment
Posted by ok
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2015 at 2:00 pm

OTOH they'd be OK with this density in other neighborhoods, specifically near the Caltrain stations? Or is this PAF?

9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2015 at 2:01 pm

We have a height limit for a reason. Enforce it or we will have to do another Measure D.

ARB: Learn from your recent CC vote on the Park Avenue project. The height limit was enforced --- even though *you* gave the waiver. Get smart and enforce current zoning codes!

16 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2015 at 2:44 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

Sore thumb? Those old condos are sore thumbs.In fact that block of San Antonio is pretty ugly. I'm sure we want to make sure that all architecture on that block adheres to oil change and truck rental retail buildings.

6 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2015 at 10:06 pm

You know what? We have lots of hotels over here. You want it, Old Palo Alto, you make room for it. That ugly blocky eyesore (you all know which one I mean) that grossly violated zoning, that put us over the mark over here for, basically, forever. Palo Alto wants more hotels, put them somewhere that needs 'em. We could use retail, businesses, and yes, even truck rentals.

2 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2015 at 10:39 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

There is a lengthy article in the Daily News today concerning this hotel effort. The picture of the proposed hotels is not very appealing.

I was at a Courtyard Hotel this last weekend in SO-CAL and was charged 18.50 per night to park in the hotel garage - and I am a Marriott hotel member. I commented on this and was told that I could park in the residential areas - that is off-loading the hotel requirements onto the surrounding neighborhood - very bad policy. They do need parking for staff. On the flip side if they include parking at ground level or above - not digging downward - then they need more floors to make the hotel profitable.

There is large construction at the El Camino / San Antonio location so this is not out of step with the area that is currently upgrading. The buildings that are there now are very old and not generating any tax base.

The plus of having taller buildings is that our air space will preclude the lower airplane altitudes that we are now seeing. We are the flattest area around as all other cities are now including higher floor space. If other cities are now upgrading with more levels then why are we stuck at the four level mode? I do not get that.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

The tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere would not affect SFO traffic over Palo Alto, nor helicopter traffic. Look at the tall buildings on the SJC final approach.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm

We need to move Surf Air sideways - they use Middlefield as their incoming flight path. Taller buildings can accomplish that since they are not at 4,000.

1 person likes this
Posted by unethical
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2015 at 8:47 am

Wait! Randy Popp presented to the board he serves on? While Kyu Kim abstained and there is an open seat on the ARB? Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture, ethically and legally?

First there wasn't a quorum of ARB members so why did they even discuss it? 2 members out of 5 reviewed it.

Secondly, while it may be legal(not sure it is) it's highly unethical for Mr Popp to step off the Dias and present to his colleagues. The potential for illicit and even unintended influence is way, way too high. Hilton needs to find another representative other than our ARB members.

And Mr Popp needs to resign immediately. We're had an ARB member resiugn over a $12 pot. This involved millions of dollars and demonstrates a complete disregard for basic moral consideration.

Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2015 at 3:22 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

A new Marriott will be going up at 101 and Marsh Road - so this set of hotels is bookending the area north and south. I think if they change up the design it will be a big plus to that area. The existing buildings are old and unattractive.

Even if you are not staying there it will be a place to go on this side of town for festive occasions - brunch, etc.

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

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