Hotel plan draws opposition in south Palo Alto

Residents concerned about building's density, traffic impacts

Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board indicated on Dec. 21, 2017 that a developer will have to revise his plan for a new 90-room hotel planned for 4256 El Camino Real. Rendering by Studio T Architects.

For Palo Alto's elected leaders, the hotel boom that is transforming south El Camino Real is a trend to be embraced: a welcome boost to the city's revenue stream at a time of rising infrastructure costs and growing pension obligations.

The City Council signaled as much last year, when it voted to explore allowing greater density for new hotels, particularly in the downtown area.

But for residents of Palo Alto Redwoods, the promise of new riches comes at a high cost. On Dec. 21, a group from the 117-unit condominium complex came to City Hall to protest the latest entry into the crowded field: a 90-room hotel proposed for 4256 El Camino Real, site of Su Hong restaurant. From their point of view, the new project will cause traffic havoc, threaten the health of area redwoods and create parking problems.

The residents made their case to a largely sympathetic Architectural Review Board, which found the latest design for the new hotel to be lacking. Though the board did not vote on the project, members indicated at the Dec. 21 meeting that the developer, Mircea Voskerician, will need to revise the proposal to win approval.

The meeting was the board's second look at the project, which also faced neighborhood opposition when it was first presented last August. The developer's architect, Chek Tang of the firm Studio T Architects, told the board that since August, the project team has made some revisions to make the new hotel more amenable to area residents. This included reconfiguring the building to enable a larger courtyard.

Tang also noted that the project is consistent with all the zoning rules and is not seeking any exemptions.

"We have heard the comments and we have in good faith addressed all the comments, not just from the board but from the community as well," Tang said.

Palo Alto Redwoods residents didn't see it this way. Josephine Schuster, who has lived at the complex for 32 years, was one of several residents to complain about the proposed height and mass of the new hotel, which she said would overshadow many of the condos.

"I did not move to Palo Alto to live in a cave," Schuster told the board. "That's how I'd be living if this project is approved."

Sharlene Carlson, who also lives at Palo Alto Redwoods, agreed. Residents would like to welcome a new neighbor with whom they can "reasonably and comfortably coexist." But the latest proposal, she said, is "not acceptable to us."

"Nothing about the proposed benefit benefits our community," Carlsen said. "There are many things that present potential harm."

A major concern, for both residents and board members, is traffic. According to the latest design, hotel guests coming in from El Camino Real are immediately directed to a ramp leading to an underground garage. The new plan also includes a large porte-cochère in front of the hotel, as well as a loading area for deliveries.

Neil Murphy, who has lived at Palo Alto Redwoods for six years, argued that the layout would create safety hazards and worsen traffic circulation on El Camino Real. It will encourage illegal parking that will block traffic visibility, Murphy said.

"In reality, this proposal exacerbates a dangerous situation that no one will take responsibility for adequately mitigating after the fact," Murphy said.

Parking was another area of concern. The developer plans to rely heavily on mechanical lifts to provide the 96 parking spaces required by code. Ninety of these spaces would be provided through three-level parking lifts -- technology that has plenty of skeptics in the community.

If approved, the new hotel would occupy a stretch of El Camino that has become a magnet for hotels, big and small. These include two recently constructed hotels -- Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites -- as well as Crowne Plaza Cabana, Palo Alto Inn, Americas Best Value Inn, Oak Motel and Dinah's Garden Hotel.

John Hutar, general manager of Dinah's Garden Hotel, was among the speakers who opposed the new hotel proposal -- partly because of the way it is handling parking and traffic. Hutar said he has spoken to a colleague in a Santa Cruz hotel that utilizes similar parking-lift technology and was told that the parking situation is by far the "biggest detractor" for hotel guests.

Hutar noted that when Dinah's opened in 1958, it won accolades from area architects for its design. Having a "massively dense structure" go up right across the street "would be just a shame for Palo Alto and everything we stand for in our values."

"We are open to competition -- that's everyone's right," Hutar said. "But to jam this much density on a parcel in a neighborhood that is currently lovely would really be a shame."

Board members largely agreed that the project still has a long way to go before it wins approval. Board member Robert Gooyer expressed misgivings about the proposed loading zone and parking layout, while board Chair Wynne Furth said she would not be able to approve the project unless she is convinced that all the trees on the perimeter of the hotel property can be preserved and protected.

Board member Peter Baltay told the applicants that the hotel needs to attractive, safe for drivers and accessible for guests to get around in before it can get his support.

"These are all basic things that just aren't happening," Baltay said.


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48 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 9, 2018 at 6:37 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Just say no to another under-parked monstrosity. Please don't use the claim that it's "a welcome boost to the city's revenue stream at a time of rising infrastructure costs and growing pension obligations."

Yes, our infrastructure costs are rising as the city wastes many millions of dollars on unwanted and dangerous road furniture and traffic calming. Stop wasting OUR money on this type of nonsense. Also stop using it as a justification to fi;; the city coffers! Start looking at cost-CUTTING, not revenue generation!

(How many new bump-outs is the city planning and how much more will it cost us? The green sharrows are ugly but at least paint's cheaper than concrete barriers!)

Maybe not all of the city employees deserve maximum raises and bonuses and housing allowances? Maybe it's time to take a hard look at city staffing. For example, how long does it take the Utilities Dept. to fix its phone tree? How many parking "experts" do we really needed to administer the CONTRACTORS for the parking permit programs when they STILL can't get the numbers right.

This hotel's proposed for El Camino at a time when the city's embarking on a costly Grand Boulevard initiative for El Camino. The project doesn't even mention car traffic-- just bikes, buses, pedestrians and bump-outs! t(Try to respond to the Planning & Transportation Dept. project survey for another example of wasted money!)

If the city's so short on revenue, maybe it should have rushed through all the emergency anti-marijuana regulations while the tax revenues go to Mountain View, San Jose and other communities.

We need services for residents, NOT projects that will create more traffic so the city can fill its coffers and then spend more millions of dollars telling RESIDENTS to get out of OUR cars.,

This is just nuts.

31 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2018 at 6:52 pm

This article says nothing about what will happen to Su Hongs. We really enjoy going to Su Hongs for a quick casual meal and it is always busy and vibrant, but parking is easy and the wait is usually short.

We are losing family oriented businesses and the replacements are nothing to suit actual Palo Alto residents, who live here, and want to do things other than hibernate in our homes.

Palo Altans for Common Sense.

28 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 9, 2018 at 7:23 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Earlier articles said that Su Hong would disappear. We too enjoy going there and will miss it when it's gone -- like too many others.

I'm still angry that Ming's never got approval to add a hotel and shrink their restaurant. It was a perfect place to meet out-of-towners who didn't want to battle parking. I miss their dum sum.

What's Palo Altans For Common Sense? We sure need some.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2018 at 9:28 pm

@Online Name

If you are curious about it, read quickly through the Pickleball thread to see the history of Palo Altans for Common Sense.

Palo Altans for Common Sense.

2 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Thanks @Resident! I believe I've found the link to the Pickleball thread:

Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2018 at 1:52 pm

City should define in detail that to satisfy the parking lot requirement means that cars must be driven to the required parking lots without assistance of external mechanical contraptions.

That would eliminate clever tricks such as lifts.

Otherwise a hotel can even claim they meet the parking requirement by leasing a lot outside of the property and use valet parking. It would obviously defeat the purpose of this requirement.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Sagorac
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 18, 2018 at 10:52 am

again, misinformed residents and city commissioners..wait till City Council gets wind that this approval is delayed. More articles like this will actually help developer.

1. The plans shows that this building is 100% Valet service so really does not matter how they park since guests will never park on lifts..CITY ZONING SPECIFIES THAT DEVELOPER CAN USE 90% OF PARKING ON MECHANICAL LIFTS AND 10% AS REGULAR PARKING.. get educated people..check with Planning department.. there are no tricks.. guests will just drop their car plus they offer shuttle service and those days we also heard of taking UBER...from the airport. Regular parking is something from 50 years ago...Look around read papers, read about technology.. I guess some residents really leave in a bubble.

2. Su Hong is Retiring..that is why he sold the place I asked him a year ago. Why people just not ask the owner...and make waves for no reason..Talk to David. I guess he has the right to Retire after 40 years in this business...

3. That is all she wrote...on views of Hotels in Palo Alto by City Council which you elected.

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2018 at 11:51 am

TBH it doesn't really look oversized from what I can tell. I am worried about traffic in and out and parking. Because this has been messed up so many times lately, I don't really trust them.

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