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Plan to rebuild Hotel Parmani faces zoning hurdle

Council considers granting exception to setback requirement for four-story hotel

Located at the doorstep of the sprawling and bustling Stanford Research Park, Hotel Parmani keeps a decidedly low profile.

Built in 1948, before the city's primary innovation zone was established, Parmani is a two-story, 36-room hotel with a surface parking lot. Now, a plan is under way to demolish the building at El Camino Real and Hansen Way and construct the sort of development that has become increasingly common in recent years: a four-story, 93-room hotel with two levels of underground parking.

Yatin Patel, whose family has owned the hotel for the past 30 years, told the City Council on Monday that the family embarked on a journey early last year "to replace the mid-century hotel with a product that more closely matches the demands of today's travelers, particularly given our proximity to the Stanford Research Park."

There's just one problem: an old law that was enacted after the hotel was constructed that requires a 50-foot "special setback" on Hansen Way. Neither the property owner nor the city's planning staff could say with any certainty exactly why the rule was implemented for this part of the city in 1959.

The current Hotel Parmani does not conform to this rule (it intrudes into the setback zone by 18 feet); neither do the buildings on the adjacent site (some of which intrude 14 feet into the zone). The new hotel, however, would have to follow the rule.

Unless of course, the City Council either grants the applicant an exception or agrees to scrap the 50-foot rule altogether. On Monday night, the applicants made a case for why the new hotel should be allowed to intrude into the forbidden zone to a council that was only mildly receptive to the arguments. The council didn't take any votes in the "pre-screening" hearing, which was intended to offer early feedback and help the applicants decide whether and how to proceed with the application.

Randy Popp, a local architect who is on the applicant team, called the rule "archaic" and said the site would be "virtually undevelopable" if the setback remains in place. The site, which is in the service commercial (CS) zone, is very different from the lots in the adjacent research park (RP) zone. The research zone, Popp said, requires lots to have a minimum zone of 5 acres (the Parmani site is 0.6 acres). If applied, it would leave the hotel with less room that he has available across the width of his single-family parcel, Popp said.

"The first thing we want to understand is how much of a site we have the ability to use," Popp said. "That will determine whether we will be going with this project."

Rather than offer a firm answer, the council responded to the request with a wide range of comments, largely corresponding to their philosophical leanings on the subject of development.

Councilman Greg Scharff was open to scrapping the setback rule, though he strongly favored actually changing the law rather than granting a variance. Scharff said he would support having a broader policy discussion about what the setback in this area should be.

"It doesn't seem to make sense to have the 50-foot setback," Scharff said. "From a policy perspective, why wouldn't we just get rid of the 50-foot setback along Hansen Way? If this came before us today, should we be imposing a 50-foot setback or not?"

Councilman Cory Wolbach, like Scharff, also favored a "legislative solution" (zone change) over a variance, though he said he is still undecided about whether one should be pursued.

Councilman Marc Berman likewise said he was ambivalent about the proposal, though he also made a case for why an exception is warranted.

"Every other site on Hansen Way is hundreds of feet deep, therefore it's a lot easier to have wider setback and not impact the usage of the parcel," Berman said. "This site is long and narrow, with the long side on Hansen. So there is not a lot that you can do."

Berman also argued that the site should be evaluated based on present circumstances rather than the council's rationale 50 years ago.

But others were less gung-ho about messing with the existing zoning. Councilwoman Karen Holman argued that the establishment of the setback was not an "accident" but a "conscious decision to continue this as part of a thoroughfare or boulevard."

Holman also said she has a hard time considering this issue without also evaluating the density of the proposed building (a conversation that the applicants didn't want to have Monday because the building's design would depend in large part on the setback decision). She also cited concerns from the community about new buildings being "unsympathetic" with adjacent properties and offered her own thoughts on new developments.

"I'm pretty tired of us just redeveloping everything, as opposed to adaptive reuse," Holman said. "It's not green to just tear down everything and build new. It doesn't consider what the material, manufacture and transport of energy it takes to build new buildings and it's not a very creative, in my way of thinking."

Councilmen Eric Filseth and Tom DuBois, who like Holman are affiliated with the council's slow-growth "residentialist" wing, agreed that it's tough to make a decision on the setback without considering the broader issues surrounding height and density. Mayor Pat Burt concurred and said his support for a variance or a zone change would depend on the scale and the massing of the building.

DuBois said he would oppose a "hard corner" at this site and recommended that the applicant consider more landscaping, though he didn't rule out reducing the required setback. The Research Park has a "campus feel" and the new project should respect the park setting.

Filseth was more cautious about changing zoning and said that the city should, in general, "try really hard to minimize the number of variances and spot zoning we have." These requests, he said, require a large amount of staff time and they change property owner's expectations about their sites.

"Each time we do one of these things, it basically opens the door for the person who owns the property next door to come to us and ask for the same thing," Filseth said.

Comments

65 people like this
Posted by Living nearby
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2016 at 11:11 am

I think the setback rules are good - otherwise the buildings would be looming unpleasantly over the passersby or driversby (like the JCC monstrosity on Charleston).


15 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

"Randy Popp, a local architect who is on the applicant team, called the rule "archaic" and said the site would be "virtually undevelopable" if the setback remains in place."

Obviously untrue. There's a development there already. [Portion removed.]

Where's that vaunted Silicon Valley creativity? Why do they need to build everything here like they build everything in Kansas? (sorry, Topeka).

All developers want handouts from the town. They're like golfers who want exceptions from every rule so they can ratchet up their score. Just say no for once.


13 people like this
Posted by Just a Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 5, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Here we go - Now let's watch and see if once again Burt plays his range of ambivalent to skeptical before voting to go ahead with the project. Seems like everything in the this town is outdated and obsolete - just awful - as soon as a developer wants to replace it with something much larger, denser, and that looks just like or close to the Hayes Group office park style.


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

There have been a number of articles concerning development on El Camino in this area since it is in the area of FRY's - which they are trying to tear down and develop. A number of large developments have shown up in the papers but not materialized for some reason or another in this specific area. So why is there a problem with this hotel? There is some underlying maneuvering going on here. Also - you have Marriott working on developing two hotels on the San Antonio corridor. You have new hotels down the street on the other side of Charleston.
Sorry - zoning sounds like some excuse which has been concocted but you can bet if they tear down FRY's then you will see a massive development.


6 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 5, 2016 at 12:36 pm

In discussions of the Comprehensive Plan the desire is to build the El Camino Corridor with retail and apartments. How can you pursue that goal on the one hand then on the other hand argue over a 50 year old rule going back to when we had cows grazing in South PA. People are going to be watching how this is handled and use it as a legal strategy for how the rest of the city is developed. We can use a good hotel in that area. And the city benefits from the hotel tax.
We also had a problem on East Embarcadero with Mings - it was suppose to be a hotel and that did not materialize. Are we only open to Marriott? Starwood hotels (Sheraton and Westin) are becoming Marriott's.


1 person likes this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 5, 2016 at 1:02 pm

This parcel is too small to do much with. Encourage the 3 property owners to redevelop their properties as one parcel (McDonald's, Fish Market, motel).


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm

"...on the one hand then on the other hand argue over a 50 year old rule going back to when we had cows grazing in South PA."

Believe this or not, people still debate a 230 year old bunch of rules called the Constitution. And they alternately revere and blithely flaunt rules thousands of years old called the Commandments. So 50 years don't look too bad.

"you can bet if they tear down FRY's then you will see a massive development."

Since it's in a declared "transit oriented" (read "sacrifice") zone, expect huge, dense, and underparked, to squeeze out every possible drop of ROI.


11 people like this
Posted by None
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Scharff said he thinks the whole industrial park should get rid ofthe 50 foot setbacks. Stanford wanted a campus like setting to foster creativity and enhance the town - not curb to sidewalk to vertical walls lining the small streets. Scharff wants to unleash curb to curb development in the park. This is not just about one hotel (an ugly beast by the way) or one now very pleasant street, but about the whole 700 acres in the industrial park. Beware the lean and hungry look of greed.


3 people like this
Posted by Vera M. Shadle
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 5, 2016 at 2:28 pm

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Who's who
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 5, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Randy Popp was on the Architectural Review Board. [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by I am not maurucio
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Another plan for making the city nicer-- another opportunity to attack the JCC, PAF and local developers.


3 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2016 at 3:20 pm

This is an answer to our prayers! Zone the property for a 15 story building right out to the side walk with 400 sq ft housing units. You might be able to get a whole ABAG unit of housing.in there. Further provide no parking and require that owners/renters sign a lease that prohibits car lease/ownership. And evict anyone who lives there who is found to be regularly driving and parking a car near the building. All units would be at market rates. Bingo, we have solved our affordable housing crisis.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2016 at 6:21 pm

"Zone the property for a 15 story building right out to the side walk with 400 sq ft housing units."

Isn't something much like that already in the works for Middlefield at Colorado?


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 5, 2016 at 9:44 pm

In this zoning context, what is the definition of "setback"?

Has the definition changed in the past 50 years?

Maybe we should agree on the term before arguing about it.

In some jurisdictions, it's measured from the center of the road.

A salient point not mentioned in this article is the actual location of the hotel property line.


2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 5, 2016 at 10:21 pm

This property is on El Camino - it is not back in the Stanford Industrial Park proper any more than the McDonalds or Fish Market. Look at the bicycle store across the street - the bikes are on the sidewalk. The AT&T store does not have a set-back. Something else is going on here - they are speaking to a bunch of rules that are inconsistent with the rest of El Camino. The excuses are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the rest of the buildings on El Camino - EXCEPT the CPI facility across the street. Now there is a giant problem - a bunch of one story buildings on a huge piece of land. Now that is where a huge development should be placed. There is a huge amount of wasted land there.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 5, 2016 at 10:43 pm

The frontage and setback in question is along Hansen Way, not El Camino.


2 people like this
Posted by Musicman
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 6, 2016 at 7:11 am

Here's a link to their proposal

Web Link

The 50' setback looks to be from the sidewalk. IMO, the setback will need to be trimmed back some as 50' into the lot is effectively the mid point of the property. The existing hotel is not in compliance with this setback requirement. To redevelop this hotel with compliance will require building an unfeasible thin building. OTOH, their existing proposal looks way too big for the site, with no little space from it to the sidewalk.


7 people like this
Posted by Who's who
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 6, 2016 at 11:48 am

It will be interesting to watch Councilman Burt maneuver his way around so that he can vote for the developer. Starts out with a resident-friendly statement with lots of loopholes, then votes for the developer.

Never fails. How did he vote on the Arillaga multi-story multi-building 27 University proposal?


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2016 at 1:02 pm

The side of the building is on El Camino. That is the "busy" street. That is where set-backs would be an issue. Hanson Way in that specific location faces onto the driveway to CPI. It is not a busy street. I was over there in the previous rendition of the articles on this hotel and when you go on the side street you end up with security vans checking you out. Hansen Way in that specific location is only an issue to CPI. Otherwise there are not people walking around there. Is CPI the problem?

On the last set of articles the hotel was being compared to the tennis shoe store, then a couple of months later there appeared an article about a huge development which would take over that side of the street and eliminate the shoe store. There are a lot of plans sitting in the planning stages that surface then disappear. Those other plans will disqualify the concerns being displayed here. The Planning Department better be careful here on how you disqualify someone - it could come back to bite you.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm

@Musicman, thanks for the link. Now we have something to talk at. The second page (site plan) shows the situation clearly. As you noted, the 50-foot setback is the horizontal dashed line, effectively the mid point of the property. That 50 feet is measured from the property line indicated by a heavy dashed line around the 100x276-foot parcel. This is parcel 142-20-037 on the county assessor map. The City of Palo Alto owns the land 40 feet on either side of the Hansen Way center-line, if I understood the council meeting correctly. This came as a surprise to council members. The current motel building "setback" is about six inches. (Don't know where Gennady's 18 foot intrusion comes from, maybe the curb.)

Their proposed building looks about the same distance from the Hansen curb, only straight up fifty feet. The end of Hansen Way as we've known it.

Does Stanford own the actual land, and the hotel is just on a long-term lease? Maybe Stanford can shed some light on the origin of the 50-foot setback rule.


14 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

To resident 1:
I have lived in south Palo Alto for over 50 years and I have never seen cows grazing in that part of Palo Alto. There were cows along what became 280, but never in the area along El Camino. We did have several donkeys and horses in Barron Park.
The piece of El Camino where Parmini hotel is has been a hotel/motel as long as I have lived here.
I was an adult at the time so I remember it very well.
Zoning regulations are extremely important and need to be observed in all parts of PA not just near Embarcadero, 94301 zip.


5 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 6, 2016 at 3:54 pm

"To redevelop this hotel with compliance will require building an unfeasible thin building. OTOH, their existing proposal looks way too big for the site, with no little space from it to the sidewalk."

Why don't the owners use some of that hallowed Silicon Valley innovation to come up with a solution that fits inside the existing footprint and the 50' height limit? Uncreative developers like these should be forever banished from the Valley. Where would we be if Wozniak and Jobs had demanded somebody build a six-core Pentium class processor before they would design their first Apple? Get with it people, or get off it.


2 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 6, 2016 at 6:02 pm

El Camino is a revolting, depressing, demoralizing, anxious commercial strip from the corner of Page Mill south, all the way to...well... all the way to Mexico. They could tear the whole thing down and line the road with 15 story buildings up to the edge of the sidewalk and it couldn't be worse. IT. COULD. NOT. BE. WORSE. The current zoning regulations got us to the soul-sapping ugliness that is El Camino Real, so how could that be any good?

The people kvetching on this thread are probably the same people who mourned the loss of Hobee's in T&C. Web Link Come to think of it, tear down the Hobee's on El Camino and put a 10-story hotel their instead. IT. COULD. NOT. BE. WORSE.


5 people like this
Posted by Don't_Attack_the_Setback
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:25 am

For a comparison of what this monstrosity would do to the neighborhood, take a look at the recent Hilton near Arastradero and the Marriott near Matilda.

Web Link

Web Link

Notice how the drawings always show nice lush landscaping on the frontage but in reality they drop in a few wood chips and scraggly plants that die off in a year. What is left are monuments of greed, graft, plastic and faux facades.

How will this project make Palo Alto better or serve its residents?


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2016 at 11:34 am

Go take a look at the market on Alma and East Meadow. Now that is a set-back disaster because the site was too narrow to accommodate a set-back. Then drive down Alma to University in the commercial zone and check out the set backs there. Now everyone is going to be looking at set-backs through out the city to see where some accommodation to the size of the site was accommodated. You have to be careful to exercise consistency or people are asking why. And who is exercising influence to make things happen - or not happen.

Are hotels different then restaurants? Or other commercial ventures that have a high number of autos arriving and departing? The parking lot for this hotel is accessed from El Camino and is planned to be underground so that is not a problem for the low-use side street. I have seen no cars on Hansen on this side of the street.

If you had more people in the hotel then you would have more people eating at the Fish Market or across the street. The hotel generates more foot traffic for the local visitors to use the nearby available amenities. The amenities need to be top notch - that drives the need for further improvement in that stretch of El Camino. Is that the problem here?


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Marie is a registered user.

A setback of 50 feet may be too much - but 0 is too little. I hope a compromise can be found that is consistent with the surrounding properties. I have my doubts about 50 feet tall in that location. It will tower over surrounding buildings. I hope the planning commission will take seriously the need to be compatible with surrounding properties.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2016 at 5:38 pm

This hotel is in the proximity of the very tall buildings on Page Mill and El Camino. That should be the measure of what is tall for that area. Many plans have surfaced in the Weekly concerning planned developments in this specific area of El Camino on the other side of the street. If that ever gets off the drawing boards then the hotel will be the same size as the new buildings.
People keep going back to the shoe store as the measure of that area - the shoe store is going to be gone as soon as the other developments move up in the queue for approval. The current old buildings are going to be GONE.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2016 at 6:55 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"This hotel is in the proximity of the very tall buildings on Page Mill and El Camino."

This is how Palo Alto overbuilds. Existing abominations justify new atrocities, until we got nothing but abominations and atrocities.


7 people like this
Posted by Don't_Attack_the_Setback
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Here's a couple more for you along ECR between Arastradero and San Antonio.

Web Link

Web Link

Is this really our vision for our Palo Alto community? Is it the best we can do?

A serial mishmash of 50 ft buildings that come right up to the sidewalk. Little vegetation and no line of site to the landscape that makes this area so special. These projects are not making ECR better but rather turning it into a noisy, polluted concrete tunnel.

Put simply, people oppose the new projects because they are worse than what exists today.


4 people like this
Posted by A Fascinated Watcher
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:32 pm

"These projects are not making ECR better but rather turning it into a noisy, polluted concrete tunnel."

These projects make ECR better if you are an investor in Woodside, Atherton, etc., who gains capital from building these projects in someone else's backyard, where they don't have to endure their presence personally. Everyone in that category knows Palo Alto is Patsytown for big hyperprofitable developments.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 9, 2016 at 2:39 am

The "very tall buildings" at Palo Alto Square are set back more than 400 feet from El Camino Real. That should be the measure of appropriate setbacks for that area.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:01 am

For the North Palo Alto people the first thing you see at 101 and University is the huge development of law offices and hotel. That is how you know you are in PA. Yes - it is East PA land but who knows that. And East PA gets the tax revenue from those buildings which are very well done. And cross over University east and they are building at a rapid rate near the Ikea Store.
Go west on University and check out the new buildings going up on SU campus. So all you north PA people you are surrounded by tall buildings.
And all those others from "Another Palo Alto Neighborhood" check out the building in process and planned in Menlo Park and 101 at Marsh Road. Go a bit north and check out Redwood City - major building in the downtown area and SU is going to put a new campus there.
Meanwhile our stretch of ECR looks like a 1940's deteriorating area in the Page Mill to Charleston area. And you know those buildings will fall down in an earth quake.


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

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