Palo Alto rolled out the welcome mat on Monday night to two new Marriott hotels, which won the City Council's approval despite heated opposition from the surrounding neighborhood.
By an 8-1 vote, with Councilwoman Lydia Kou dissenting, the council approved a proposal by T2 development for two hotels -- a sleek and urban AC Hotels by Marriott and the more traditional Courtyard by Marriott -- for a site at 744 and 748 San Antonio Road, near the Mountain View city border. The vote followed more than an hour of testimony from the public, with dozens of neighbors urging the council to strike down the project.
Some argued that the new hotels are grossly incompatible with their neighborhood, which includes a mix of small commercial buildings and the condominium complexes, Greenhouse I and Greenhouse II. And nearly everyone maintained that the new hotels, which will bring 294 rooms between them, would exacerbate the already worsening congestion on San Antonio.
"Seen in isolation, it's a great project," said Ralph Cahn, treasurer of the Greenhouse Homeowners Association, "But it's not in isolation."
Citing the two buildings' 50-foot heights, mass and anticipated traffic impacts, Cahn said the project represents "a huge change to the whole character of the street."
Phillip Hill said that on any weekend, there are many little children playing at the Greenhouse II housing complex. The new hotels, he said, would harm their quality of life.
"I'd implore all of you to search your conscience," Hill said. "If this hotel was built in your backyard or across the street from your house, would you still vote yes?
The council acknowledged the congested conditions on San Antonio, which has a "level of service" measurement of "D" (with "A" as free-flowing traffic and "F" as complete congestion), according to the Environmental Impact Report for the project. But the analysis also found that the hotels would not significantly worsen the traffic and the council agreed with this assessment.
The council tried to placate critics by attaching several conditions to its approval. Addressing residents' concerns about the loss of groundwater due to construction of the basement-level parking garage, the council approved an amendment by Councilwoman Karen Holman calling for the proposed garage to be reduced from two underground levels to one. The developer would also provide puzzle lifts in its garage to make up for the parking spots that would be lost with the reduction.
And in a nod to anxiety over traffic, the council supported Councilman Cory Wolbach's amendment directing half of the savings from the garage reduction to be used for congestion relief. While the hotel proposal already included a "transportation demand management" plan aimed at cutting the number of solo drivers to and from the hotel by 20 percent among employees and by 30 percent among guests, the council attached another condition requiring the hotels to provide shuttles to San Francisco International Airport (they already pledged to provide them to Mineta San Jose International Airport).
"It can't be overstated how serious the traffic problem is on San Antonio," Wolbach said, in discussing his amendment.
Mayor Greg Scharff noted that hotels will mostly cater to business travelers bound for Mountain View's industrial North Bayshore area. And with the hotels providing airport transportation and large high-tech firms offering their own shuttles, it will be possible for travelers to get around without cars.
"There will be money to hopefully do some mitigation on relieving congestion on San Antonio Road so that at the end of the day, after the hotel is built, the hotel will actually not to create congestion and hopefully even relieve some of the congestion," Scharff said. "Citywide, having a hotel in this location will relieve congestion in that people won't drive from other parts of the city to get to North Bayshore."
The council also concurred with the applicants' assertion that the project is compliant with the zoning code and all the relevant design guidelines. The Architectural Review Board, which held four meetings on the project, had voted 3-1 on June 1 to approve it.
Even so, not everyone on the council was thrilled about densifying San Antonio. Even though the project architects had expanded and refined the landscaping plans over the project's evolution, Holman wondered whether the transitions between the five-story buildings and the surrounding area are adequate.
Ultimately, she joined the majority in voting to support the project, which is expected to bring an estimated $3.6 million in annual hotel revenues. Several council members, including Scharff and Adrian Fine, pointed to the revenue-generating nature of hotels as a major benefit of the proposal.
"We have a lot of folks saying this is their neighborhood, and I get that ," Fine said. "At the same time, when I think about hotels here, it kind of makes sense here more than in any other places."