Board approves two Marriott hotels for San Antonio Road

Architectural Review Board supports new designs for Courtyard and AC hotels in south Palo Alto

Despite a swell of neighborhood opposition, a proposal to build two five-story Marriott hotels on San Antonio Road scored a big victory Thursday morning when Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board voted to endorse the project.

By a 3-1 vote, with Chair Alexander Lew dissenting and board member Kyu Kim absent, the board approved a plan to build the two hotels – a Courtyard by Marriott and an AC by Marriott – at 744 and 748 San Antonio Road, a project that will bring 294 rooms to a block near the city's border with Mountain View. The City Council is scheduled to review the environmental analysis for the project and issue its final approval on June 12.

The board's Thursday approval came nearly two months after the board criticized an earlier design for the two hotels. At its April 6 meeting, board members argued that the buildings looked too massive; that the color scheme of the AC hotel was too dark and that the proposed landscaping was insufficient.

On Thursday, the board agreed that the applicant sufficiently addressed its earlier concerns with the revised design, which now includes landscaped terraces to break up massing, larger trees and deeper cornices.

But while these changes pleased the board, they did little to mollify the dozens of area residents who have been attending meetings and submitting letters to oppose the new developments. Some lamented the size and mass of the five-story buildings, with one area resident, Merridee Taylor, calling them an "eyesore" and likening them to prisons.

While visual impact was one area of concern, traffic impacts was another. Taylor was one of more than dozen residents who complained that the new hotels would further exacerbate the area's already considerable traffic jams. Resident Nancy Martin called the project "negative progress."

"We have lost so much," Martin said. "More businesses in the area do not add to a positive resident experience."

Janet Kahle, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years, recalled the old days when she could see the sun and the moon from her home. Joan Larrabee, who also lives in the area, argued that the project "ignores the requirement of the city that new developments be compatible with existing surroundings."

But despite the unanimous opposition from the speakers, the board agreed that the project meets code and warrants approval. After some discussion, the board voted to give the project the green light.

Board member Peter Baltay said the problem that seems to concern most residents isn't the new hotels but rather the worsening traffic situation. The hotels, he said, aren't going to dramatically change that.

And while some residents criticized the buildings' appearances, Baltay concluded that the hotel complex is compatible with the area and is "the best building we can hope for," given the density regulations.

"If you're unhappy with large buildings like this, change the zoning code," Baltay told the residents. "Don't ask the Architectural Review Board to reject a project like this, that meets the standards."

Board member Robert Gooyer agreed and alluded to the project's evolution over the past year.

"I'm sure the applicant will attest to the fact that we've been a royal pain-in-the-you-know-what because we demanded a lot of changes," Gooyer said. He acknowledged that many neighbors are upset about the project but said the board is "trying to do the best job for the community to get what's done."

Even Lew, who voted against the project, said he believes the project is "generally compatible with the neighborhood." His biggest concerns were over the circular drop-off area in front of the hotels and insufficient planting in the project's side-yard.

Architect Randy Popp noted that even with the new hotels that the city approved over the past decade, the total number of rooms in Palo Alto is 77 fewer than in 2005, when Hyatt Rickey's ended its operation. He estimated that the transient-occupancy tax in the third year of the hotels' operation is anticipated to be $3.6 million.

"It's pretty clear that although development has continued, it just hadn't kept pace," Popp said.

Editor's note: This story was initially published with an incorrect address for the proposed developments as 744 and 748 San Antonio Ave., but has since been corrected to San Antonio Road.


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6 people like this
Posted by bellhop
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2017 at 11:35 pm

ooops its PA vs MV in a hotel war

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 2, 2017 at 12:03 am

"Randy Popp ... estimated that the transient-occupancy taxes from the two new hotels would bring the city about $3.6 million over a three-year period."

Is that an unrealistically low occupancy rate or an unrealistically low room rate?
Help me with the math on 294 rooms.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2017 at 9:00 am

These are not vacant lots!

What is going to happen to those who live/work/use the present buildings?

4 people like this
Posted by another resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 2, 2017 at 10:55 am

@Resident - they have all moved on. Those buildings have been vacant for months already.

23 people like this
Posted by Ralph Cahn
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jun 2, 2017 at 11:55 am

Arguments that have been disregarded by the ARB:
1. NEIGHBORHOOD. It’s a mixed Residential area of a street with already heavy traffic.
2. CROWDING. Cramming 294 hotel rooms on <2 acres requires high-rise building in a low-rise neighborhood.
3. WATER. Two levels of underground garage will reduce a near-ground-level aquifer and take an unknown time (year+) to drain, causing unknown impact.
4. CHARACTER. Two big hotels across the street from 228 homes changes the character of the neighborhood forever. Yes, it’s a neighborhood!
5. TRAFFIC. Traffic is a nightmare already. Getting to and from the proposed hotels, to or from 101 and El Camino will require U-turns at Middlefield, Charleston or Leghorn and driving both directions on San Antonio Road.
6. DEVELOPMENT. The ARB was merely fine-tuning architectural details, not seriously considering larger issues. They don’t even mind a giant “Marriott” light for residents to look up at.
7. HOUSING. We need moderate cost housing. It’s an ideal location for another small condo development.
8. RESPONSIBILITY. The 228 homes immediately across the street are City Planned Communities that Palo Alto and the HOAs are share responsibility to protect.
8. COUNCIL. Now the City Council will decide.
The Mayor has already signaled his decision, disputing the traffic objection. He argues that hotel residents make half the number of trips as homeowner families. That’s true, but 294 hotel rooms will generate far more traffic than a far smaller development of condos or apartments on the 1.95 acre site.

20 people like this
Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Housing is needed not hotels! We can temporarily accomodate execs but not actual homeless people or families facing living on the brink of a live/work disaster.

24 people like this
Posted by Architects like development
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 2, 2017 at 2:18 pm

I don't really care about Randy Popp's approval. He was the architect of the JCC/Koret complex. So we have a good clue as to his taste.

5 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Aside from any issues related to this project, Randy Popp claimed that the city has fewer hotels rooms than before the Closure of Hyatt Rickey's. Rickey's had around 350 rooms. The 6 or so hotels added in recent years must have far more rooms than Rickey's. Does anyone know the actual numbers?

3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 2, 2017 at 3:49 pm


Yes, 'another resident' is right. There's nothing but a big hole in the ground on that site now. Of course we want the TOT revenue, but at the cost of ruining what used to be a nice shopping center with a good neighborhood close by? Guess so. And to the changes made...nothing substantive...just a little spit and polish and window dressing to make it look like a really good project. Nice job ARB. You've just greased the skids for P&TC and CC to pass it without a whimper.

BTW, let's hear about the progress of affordable and low income housing in PA. Lots of lips moving in support of it but will it ever happen? Okay, and hurrah, once again, for salvaging an old decrepit mobile home park for the sake of affordable housing. That story still has to be played out. So many unforeseen problems ahead, and many current occupants will have to go. There will not be all smiles on their faces once the reality of the decision sinks in.

3 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm

"ruining what used to be a nice shopping center "

Gale, which shopping center is this? Where Sprouts and Longs are?

12 people like this
Posted by Whew!
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 6:14 pm

That's one Marriott Hotel too many.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 2, 2017 at 7:37 pm


No, where Detmers used to be, and a laundromat, a liquor store, and at one time, a furniture store. You must not get out much anymore. It hasn't been Longs for a long (pun intended) time. lol! Santana Row north. Prices to match. Gone are the days when we had a choice to shop at Sears or Penneys.

6 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 2, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Gale, I think you are confused. The site where detmers used to be is in mountain view. Housing will be built there. The Marriott's will be built on San Antonio road between middlefield and leghorn.

7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2017 at 1:38 am

Dittmer's moved to a location near Village Court, corner of ECR & San Antonio. I've had early breakfast recently nearby at a nice little place called "A Good Morning" (opens at 6AM). The morning parade of double-trailer semi trucks turning from northbound ECR to eastbound San Antonio headed for the old Dittmer's construction site is pretty impressive. Wouldn't want to be a bicycist anywhere near (I've evolved into a motorist in the interest of self-preservation). I suppose the pending Marriott construction will entail similar truck traffic. The newish Hilton Garden Inn near Hobees was a busy construction zone for months also, but the demise of Rickey's across the street and the old Elks Club seems like ancient history already. Blue sky vistas above deeply set-back low-slung buildings have rapidly disappeared.

2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2017 at 7:19 am

To musical: I guess architects don't study math. I gather that the current TOT is 14%. Suppose we take a low-ball estimate of the per room charge of $300/night (that is what some of our better local motels are charging these days). Given 294 rooms and 365 days in a year, one estimates $4.5 million/year in TOT so perhaps $3.6 million is the per year estimate?

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2017 at 12:20 pm

@Stephen, yes your numbers are nearer my thinking. Maybe government room rates are less (or untaxable?). Maybe Marriott gives corporations a deep rate discount for exclusivity contracts or multiple-day stays. Or maybe the "three-year period" is anticipating a massive recession. I imagine someone on City Staff could provide the assumptions in their revenue forecasting.

4 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Well, Its now time to tax the hell out of visitors by passing Room Taxes. Are you listening Council? Let;s relieve the citizens of some taxes

9 people like this
Posted by Joan Larrabee
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jun 5, 2017 at 1:06 pm

The property is between Leghorn and Middlefield, across the street from Greenhouse One and Greenhouse Two.

The Environmental Impact Report for the project is very flawed and incomplete. Soil and water studies were done for one level of underground parking. But now the developer needs TWO LEVELS. Constructing down another 20 feet, with no further study required! The EIR is like that all the way through!

Attend the PALO ALTO CITY COUNCIL MEETING, NEXT MONDAY, JUNE 12 at 6:00 PM. Voice your objections to the MASSIVE project in the midst of residences and one story buildings!

9 people like this
Posted by It's for...
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2017 at 2:18 pm

It's for Google. Who else?
Geez, the traffic will be even worse in the vicinity, I do feel sorry for homeowners around that area. No way to widen San Antonio Rd that I can see. If they do try to speed traffic up, increase # vehicle throughout, then that will mean construction and more noise.

13 people like this
Posted by LadyPA
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 6, 2017 at 7:36 am

We can build 5 stories hotels in Palo but but we don't support Castilleja expansion? We continue to blame Castilleja for traffic? I have not seen a singe yard sign against this project.

8 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Casti is situated in a R-1 zoned neighborhood. The proposed hotels are in a commercially zoned area of the city. Failure to recognize that significant point alone seems a bit silly / blind.

9 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:40 pm

San Antonio is already at capacity and dangerous for cars / bikes / pedestrians. The last thing we need are 300 out-of-towners making u-turns everywhere trying to find their destination. Road capacity needs to be expanded first, whether that means adding a lane in each direction, adding a parallel underground bypass road, etc. Figure out how to solve the traffic, figure out how much it will cost, charge the developers for the project, then let them build. If you skip just to "let them build" then the road will be forever deadlocked.

7 people like this
Posted by LadyPA
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 6, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Thinking that these hotels will not impact traffic on Embarcadero is silly and blind!
It does not mater which zoning they belong to.
Blaming Castilleja for all future traffic is silly and blind.

1 person likes this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2017 at 9:25 am

How much more water restrictions will the city demand of the citizens as they allow more and more construction? We are told to cut back so they can bring in more people into the city so the usual suspects can line their pockets with more money.

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

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