A proposal to convert President Hotel Apartments to a luxury hotel hit a roadblock this week, when Palo Alto's Planning Director Jonathan Lait concluded that the project described in development application would violate numerous zoning laws.
The controversial project, which has prompted the eviction of about 100 residents from the historic building at 488 University Ave., does not comply with the city's parking laws, and its retail-preservation requirements, Lait stated in a rejection letter issued Wednesday to Alex Sanford, vice president for development and construction for the project developer, Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners.
The project also violates a recently revised law that bans the conversion of downtown's "grandfathered" buildings (those that were built before the current development standards were established and that don't meet these standards) from residential to non-residential use.
Until recently, the project violated two other zoning laws. It had exceeded downtown's 350,000 square foot cap for non-residential development, though that issue became moot last month, when the council repealed the cap. The council also approved a new zoning ordinance last month to allow roof decks on grandfathered downtown buildings, a change that will help AJ Capital move ahead with plans to change the building's roof deck.
Even though these laws will help address some of the project's zoning conflicts, "it appears other items will conflict with the zoning code absent project modifications." These include regulations relating to retail, off-street parking requirements and the "building envelope" (a three-dimensional configuration of the building's mass and volume).
Parking appears to be one of the thorniest issues. Under the city's standard of one parking space per 250 square feet of gross floor area, the development would have to include about 200 parking spaces. The application, which AJ Capital filed on Feb. 4, calls for adding one parking space, which would increase the total amount from 11 to 12.
"Furthermore, there are no provisions for a commercial parking reduction available to this property," Lait wrote.
Based on the numerous violations, Lait wrote, the city is unable to process the conversion application at this time. He noted that AJ Capital can withdraw its application and receive a refund of any unspent money from its deposit.
"If you intend to proceed with the application, please update the project scope, including proposed use, and submit the required application material, including revised plans that demonstrate compliance with all applicable municipal code regulations," Lait wrote.
In its application, AJ Capital had proposed converting 75 apartments into 100 guest rooms and keeping the existing roof gardens, according to the project plans. AJ Capital has also proposed to seismically retrofit the historic building, to repaint the building and to install new "historically correct storefront systems," which will include copper mullions and ceramic tile bases.