Once a popular destination for diners seeking egg rolls, dim sum and Chinese chicken salad, the Embarcadero Road building that once housed Ming's Restaurant would be demolished and replaced with a glassy, three-story Mercedes Benz dealership under a plan that the City Council will consider Monday night.
The proposal from Fletcher Jones to build the auto dealership, at 1700 Embarcadero Road, has been picking up momentum in recent weeks, with both the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and its Architectural Review Board (ARB) giving it the green light. If it wins the council's approval on Monday night, the Mercedes facility would join a coterie of automobile dealerships already located near the Baylands, including Anderson Honda and Audi Palo Alto.
Unlike those buildings, which have sprawling, horizontal alignments, the Mercedes dealership would be 50 feet in height, roughly the same as a hotel that was once proposed and approved by the council for this site (the hotel plan was scuttled in 2013, after the entitlement expired).
The dealership would include a detached car wash and, on the ground level, a showroom and an area to service and repair vehicles. The second story would be predominantly offices, while a third would have a single sales office and a second vehicle-repair area, according to the project plans. Additional parking and vehicle storage would be available on the building's roof.
The new dealership initially proved to be a tough sell with the ARB, which at first found the building to be too massive and conspicuous for the area around the Baylands and recommended a series of revisions, including softer lights, more landscaping, subtler colors and a reduction in height. Over a course of four reviews stretching longer than a year, the project architects have agreed to revise the design; use the "sandy hook gray" color prescribed by the Baylands Master Plan; and scrap a prior plan to run an elevator to the roof -- a feature that would have extended beyond the 50-foot height of the building.
Now, the elevator will stop at the third floor and the Mercedes dealership will rely on a ramp to reach the top level, architect Deeg Snyder told the architectural panel during its last discussion, on May 19. As a result, the height exception that the applicant had previously sought will no longer be needed.
"We now have a project that is fully below the line of the required height," Snyder said.
Ultimately, the board was united in approving the project. While some members questioned whether it's appropriate to have a building of this size and scale so close to the Baylands, they also acknowledged that issues of land use are beyond their purview.
"Whether a project of this kind is suitable for this site is a decision for the City Council and its zoning decisions," board member Wynne Furth said.
Chair Robert Gooyer concurred and cited that the council's approval in 2009 of the new hotel, a project that included a zone change from "planned community" to its current designation of "service commercial." Given the council's support for the equally tall hotel, Gooyer said he has a "hard time saying I can't support a three-story car dealership, especially (since) you've softened it up greatly since where you started."
Though the applicant is no longer requesting a height exception, the project would still require some code exceptions before it becomes a reality.
Fletcher Jones is looking for the city to waive its "10-foot build-to line" requirement so that the dealership could stand further away from the major roads -- a change that the architectural panel heartily endorsed. The current plan calls for a 46-foot-8-inch setback along Embarcadero Road and an 80-foot setback along Bayshore Road.
More significantly, the dealership would require a zone change: an addition of an "automobile dealership" zoning overlay to allow for greater density. The site's existing service commercial designation allows facilities that provide "citywide and regional services" and rely on customers who drive to the destinations, according to a report from planning staff. The zoning designation allows auto dealerships and service shops, as well as motels, lumberyards and restaurants.
After discussing the zone change in late April, the Planning and Transportation Commission voted 5-0, with Chair Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka absent, to support it. Commissioner Eric Rosenblum said he can't find anything objectionable or problematic with the proposal.
"I think this is a compatible business for this area," Rosenblum said.