Four-story hotel proposed for El Camino Real | News | Palo Alto Online |


Four-story hotel proposed for El Camino Real

Building would replace Hotel Parmani

A proposal to demolish a two-story motel on El Camino Real and replace it with a 50-foot-tall hotel elicited early skepticism from Palo Alto officials Thursday, with several members of the city's Architectural Review Board urging the project architect to think smaller.

The proposal calls for replacing Hotel Parmani, on El Camino near Hansen Way, with a much larger building featuring 93 guestrooms. The existing 36-guestroom hotel was built in 1947 and is 16,943 square feet. Its replacement, proposed by the Prabhu Corp., would be 52,449 square feet.

Described as a "boutique hotel," the building would have two levels of underground parking with 88 spots as well as eight street-level spaces.

James Heilbronner, president of the firm Architectural Dimensions, wrote in a letter to the city that the new hotel would "invigorate" the property. He noted that the size of the lot, coupled with the city's height and density restrictions, requires them to build parking underground.

Furthermore, he called the additional rooms an economic necessity, given "today's costs of construction, regulatory requirements and associated fees to the 'break even' formula."

The board's Thursday discussion was a preliminary hearing, in which members offer feedback but don't make any decisions. Though the discussion covered a variety of aspects, from materials to open space, it had a common theme: How to make the building more compatible with the surrounding area, which includes smaller structures such as The Fish Market, McDonald's and Footlocker.

One idea that met a particularly rough reception was the developer's proposal to create some kind of a design element, such as a glass tower, that would exceed the city's 50-foot height limit by 15 feet. The board basically agreed that at a time when residents and council members are adamant about more stringent enforcement of zoning regulations, such an exception would be ill-advised.

Chair Robert Gooyer said there would be "no way I can go along with a 15-foot element there, basically for the sake of an element." Board member Wynne Furth made a similar point.

"I do think that a tower of this sort is not what's contemplated with the 50-foot height limit and that probably the creativity has to happen within that limit," Furth said.

Gooyer suggested that given the size of surrounding buildings, even a 50-foot height may be a little excessive.

"Even if you're allowed to go up 50 feet, I don't think this is a viable issue here, as the first one out of the chute," Gooyer said, referring to redevelopment along the block.

Another challenge for the project is a special 50-foot setback along Hansen Way, a regulation that the city put in place in 1959. The existing hotel was built before 1959 and thus grandfathered in. The new hotel would require a waiver of the requirement, given that the setback would take away about half of the property, which is about 100 feet wide.

The board made it clear Thursday that the requested variance needs much more consideration before it could be granted. Gooyer said it's important for the board to understand the reasons why the city instituted the special setback on this property before the waiver is considered.

The new proposal is just the latest in a recent surge of new hotels in Palo Alto over the last few years: The Epiphany on Hamilton Avenue, the Hilton Homewood Suites at the former site of Palo Alto Bowl and Hilton Garden Inn on the 4200 block of El Camino have all opened.

Other hotels are set to join them. On the southern edge of the city, Marriott has recently proposed building two hotels on the 700 block of San Antonio Road, a project that is currently going through the city's approval process. In the northern end, The Clement Hotel, a four-story luxury hotel with 23 rooms, is set to open later this year next to the existing Westin and Sheraton hotels.

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18 people like this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

Oh for God's sake, STOP!!! Bubbles eventually burst, do NONE of you remember what it was like in 2008???? Get your greed in check!

18 people like this
Posted by lighting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2015 at 11:05 am

Come on people, can't solar lighting be used in some form? Perfect project for the engineering innovators. Soak up sun during the day, use it up at night, completely independent from the grid. Take the challenge! Interdisciplinary too - sociology dept. and EE.

20 people like this
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2015 at 11:06 am

It would be so GREAT if hotel developers in Palo Alto could emphasize more traditional "Californian" designs instead of pretentious and out-of-place monuments to themselves or the self-absorbed designers for the project? This is Palo Alto, not Paris.

12 people like this
Posted by SOLAR
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 2, 2015 at 11:43 am


Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Thank you ARB.

2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2015 at 4:39 pm

The ARB's discomfit is to be expected. It actually is a decent looking building.

2 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2015 at 8:50 pm

I'm kinda split on this. It's pretty huge, but on the other hand, it's nicer than the motel which is there now, and it's no bigger than the Creekside Inn which is two blocks away.

6 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 2, 2015 at 9:08 pm

So you want a hotel to be consistent with a shoe store, fast food store, and restaurant. The whole area between Oregon and Charleston is problematic in that the one story buildings were built a very long time ago and are no longer in style. And you also have a higher crime rate here - many broken car windows.

You have to upgrade this area and a new hotel is a good idea but the design is not very pleasing. I don't get the design. However you have to have enough rooms to make this whole thing work - there has to be a business case for the building that shows a profit.

It should be compared to the other hotels - not a fast food place and shoe store.

2 people like this
Posted by BPark Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Certainly the design seems like a work in progress. I don't know about the tall glass tower but something perhaps more in line with the prominent corner the current motel occupies at the base of Stanford Research Park. I think this area is being developed nicely and the area could use a nice hotel to serve all te companies in the Research Park area and so close to Page Mill.

Let's hope Palo Alto doesn't scare off yet another developer who wishes to improve upon something.

6 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 2, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Menlo Park has released their designs for the El Camino redevelopment and they are consistent with California Style and very attractive. I feel like we are going backward here. We need a good hotel in this location that is attractive and inviting.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2015 at 8:28 am

I think it is a good idea to get some decent buildings on this part of ECR but I am more concerned about the setback. ECR is becoming a tunnel and we don't need more building right up to the sidewalk.

Please keep the setback, then I have no problems with the height. Overall it will be an improvement on the ugly motel. But, please keep the setback.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 3, 2015 at 3:21 pm

I went over to look at this area today. No one has mentioned the Communications and Power Industries (CPI) World Headquarters that is across the street from the present hotel. That is a massive property of one story buildings. The CPI should start re-thinking their property if it is a "World Headquarters".

The rest of the ECR going south is like a 1040's strip mall with occasional improvements going to East Meadow.

Why is the ARB thinking small when Palo Alto Square anchors the Oregon / ECR intersection and general area. The people coming to the Square would probably be visiting the new hotel if it is pleasing to look at.

Opinion from me is that it should complement the buildings in the Palo Alto Square so that it complements the general style with some formality. All of the buildings in that location have a good business presence about them - this is where it is happening.

As to the building on ECR next to the soccer field it is very impressive and beautiful at night with the lights on. This could be the Police Headquarters.
They will need a building that has solid presence and is capable of looking at the whole city and has full communication capabilities - no canopy to deal with.

4 people like this
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 3, 2015 at 6:43 pm

It is interesting that Palo Alto, the home of technology innovation, appears to be resistant to growth and change. While appropriate development must be considered we must be careful to not "throw out the baby with the bath water!"

A project of this nature requires the ability for the stakeholders and investors to have an revenue producing operation that will be a going concern. Additionally, a successful project like this will contribute tax revenue for the city.

Of course, further review is required for the best development/outcome but to consider this type of project as less than a positive contribution to the city of Palo Alto is counter intuitive. Also, the shoe store and the restaurants are not especially architecturally significant unless one is attached to the Golden Arches.

Instead, maybe we could consider this project in terms of cost/benefit and measure it in terms of its contribution to enhancing the location, adding quality hotel facility along with the increased real estate value and contribution to the city tax dollars. Perhaps the city could offer the surrounding buildings/business operations an incentive to improve their facilities and create an improved section along El Camino.

Enhanced development, increased property values, tax contribution and quality hotel accommodations...focus the discussion on lets make this the best possible development for the investor and the city and that is a winning combination.

4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

"Enhanced development, increased property values, tax contribution and quality hotel accommodations."

Man, don't we wish Palo Alto had at least one of these now. Like, everybody knows that $1,000/night hotels just don't cut it anymore.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 6, 2015 at 6:43 am

At the PACC meeting last night people were asking for more housing - but don't exceed the four story requirement. Does that make sense? People have an emotional attachment to that requirement and to accommodate it they want to make each living space smaller and load more people into the available tiny spaces.

As to 4 stories for the hotel it is next to the anchors for the Oregon/ECR intersection which has building which are in excess of 4 stories.

Please re-think why there is a four story limit - someone has to state what the purpose for that is - and it cannot be an emotional reason - it has to be a logical reason.

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