Council to weigh controversial Marriott proposal | News | Palo Alto Online |


Council to weigh controversial Marriott proposal

Palo Alto officials to consider two hotels for San Antonio Road

With Palo Alto's hotel boom in full effect, the City Council will consider on Monday the latest entrant into the crowded market when it gets its first look at a proposal to build two Marriott hotels on the southern edge of the city.

The development considered for 744-750 San Antonio Road would bring a dollop of density and urbanism to two nondescript commercial sites close to the Mountain View border. Separated by a courtyard and driving lane, the two five-story hotels between Middlefield Road and Leghorn Street would include nearly 300 hotel rooms. One of the hotels would be a Courtyard by Marriott, which targets the business traveler, while the other would be an AC Hotel, which aims for a more contemporary and cosmopolitan ambiance, according to the company.

While the City Council will not be voting on the project on Monday night, it will have a chance to offer its early comments on the proposal -- feedback that could either boost or derail it. As part of the discussion, the council will be weighing the significant economic benefits of two hotels against the buildings' impacts, including traffic, aesthetics and noise, on the eclectic area that currently boasts a mix of commercial, light industrial and residential uses.

In a letter to the city on behalf of the applicant, T2 Hospitality, attorney Camas Steinmetz wrote that the applicant is particularly interested in the council's feedback on two issues: whether hotels are desirable for this location and whether there are any concerns about the development of the site "relative to context or existing use." The site is in the service commercial (CS) zoning district, which encourages developments that accommodate citywide and regional services that generally require automobile access, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

While T2 expects the new hotels to generate about $3.8 million a year for the city in tax revenues, so far the project has been a tough sell to the city. In June, the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board had its first look at the proposal and generally agreed that two 49-foot-tall buildings would have a hard time fitting in with the eclectic, low-density structures along San Antonio Road. At the hearing, board Chair Robert Gooyer compared one of the hotels to a "large box in an area that is low-key commercial or residential" and predicted that the project will be "a sore thumb to the people around it." Vice Chair Alex Lew concurred and said he'd have to look very hard at the hotels to find ways in which they are compatible with the surrounding area.

Neighbors wholeheartedly agreed. Residents from nearby properties, including the Greenhouse and Greenhouse 2 condominium complexes, came out swinging against the proposal, arguing that the new hotels are far too massive for the neighborhood and that resulting traffic problems would be severe.

Susie Mitchell, who lives at 777 San Antonio Road, said the issue of traffic has become paramount for her and her neighbors and that it now can take her as long as 15 minutes just to leave the Greenhouse complex via the Leghorn exit to travel in either direction.

"Traffic is choking Palo Alto, and people will do things at all costs to avoid San Antonio Road," Mitchell said.

Larry Bach, owner of the Bach Company, which is just north of the property, raised similar concerns and warned about increased parking problems. He also argued that the new buildings would cast a giant shadow over his company, which is located just 10 feet away.

"It's completely out of character," Bach said. "It creates an overbearing presence."

T2 Hospitality, meanwhile, maintains that the traffic caused by the new hotels would be relatively modest. An analysis by the consulting firm Hexagon Transportation Consultants estimated that the hotel would create 88 more trips during the morning rush hours and 87 additional trips during the peak evening commute.

In the letter to the city, Steinmetz also wrote that T2's proposed transportation-demand-management program, which will include a hotel shuttle, a car-sharing platform, incentives to use mass transit and a free bike-sharing program, would cut the potential traffic by at least 20 percent. T2 also maintains in its fact sheet that the buildings will be "thoughtfully designed with low impact to the neighborhood in mind." All activities will be contained within the enclosed courtyard of the hotels, thus "reducing the visual appearance of parking from the street, diminishing auxiliary noise, along with improving neighborhood privacy."

Between them, the two hotels would bring a total of 153,580 square feet of new development to the 1.9-acre site. AC Hotel would have 153 rooms, while Courtyard would have 148. There would be no meeting space, third-party retail, restaurants or "other uses that could generate additional traffic," according to Steinmetz.

If the project moves ahead, it will join a raft of other new hotels that have set their sights on Palo Alto in the last three years. The list includes the recently built Epiphany Hotel in downtown Palo Alto; the Hilton Homewood Suites at the former Palo Alto Bowl site in the south; Hilton Garden Inn on the 4200 block of El Camino; and The Clement Hotel, which includes 23 rooms and brands itself as an "all-inclusive luxury property." The city is also considering a proposal to replace the existing 36-room Hotel Parmani on El Camino and Hansen Way with a new, larger version that would feature four-stories and 93 guest rooms.

The council's decision about the two Marriott hotels would also have ramifications for the city's long-term housing vision. Palo Alto's Housing Element, a state-mandated vision document, includes the two San Antonio sites on its inventory of parcels that could potentially accommodate housing. Between them, they could accommodate between 38 and 57 housing units, the latter if the developer uses density bonuses for building affordable housing. If the hotels are approved, the city would have to designate other parts of the city for housing to meet the state mandate.

The Housing Element acknowledges, however, that the San Antonio sites could be less than ideal when it comes to new housing. It commits the city to re-examine the possibility of removing the sites on San Antonio and south El Camino and, in their stead, adding new sites for potential housing in the more public-transit-rich areas around downtown and California Avenue.

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39 people like this
Posted by Maybell neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:44 am

We don't need any more oppressive buildings crowding out local service and retail, which has been choked out long enough, especially on the south side of tiwn. Enough!

On the other hand, we're still waiting for the hotel at the former Ming's site!

5 people like this
Posted by Watcher
a resident of University South
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:05 am

Do the hotels require zoning variances or do they meet code? Inquiring minds want to know. The city has made it clear that it wants zoning enforced as written.

46 people like this
Posted by Rita
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:45 am

One can expect a 300 room hotel would generate significant traffic. There are the guests who will all have cars, the considerable staff, the delivery trucks, individuals visits the guests, any restaurant or bar patronage and you have a MESS in an already congested area.

Traffic congestion is cumulative.We have already lost convenient use of most of our streets and must plan our trips according to anticipated traffic peaks.

The mass and size of this building is completely out of scale and character to the surrounding buildings.

Come to the 12/7 City Council meeting at 5 pm and speak out against this latest monstrosity.

It may not be in your neighborhood but if it is built it will continue the big and out of scale building frenzy in Palo Alto.

57 people like this
Posted by Yuck
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:26 am

If it looks even remotely like the ( now dated-looking) Hilton Garden, it's a big NO!

48 people like this
Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:31 am

Yuck: Look at the images. They're 2 big ugly boxes.

35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:44 am

Ugly, depressing monstrosities. We don't need them and they would turn San Antonio Rd into a traffic nightmare. The answer should be a resolute no. We need to stop and reverse the urbanism that has infected Palo Alto.

9 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Every change in scenery in PA or MP is 'controversial'. The 'Progressives' have a very limited view on progress. On these 'controversial' projects the 'Progressives' are very, very conservative; no change is good change.

13 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I'm surprised that the lack of sufficient parking is not part of this article and/or thread discussion. Previous articles mentioned that there were nowhere as many parking spaces as rooms.

20 people like this
Posted by Maybell neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Even if something technically fits within zoning, it doesn't end there. Developments are supposed to be consistent with the comprehensive plan. You should ask how badly that was hijacked.

5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:46 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:56 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hey CPD,

I guess the previous articles did not bother to read the plan.

As i read the agenda link there are 383 parking spaces for 297 rooms.

From the packet--

"The hotels would include 154 and 143 rooms respectively for a total of 297 rooms for the site. The project includes 30 surface parking spaces and 353 basement level parking in two levels (includes 84 valet parking spaces) for a total of 383 parking spaces."

3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2015 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the update/correction.

10 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2015 at 8:54 am

383 parking spaces for 297 rooms may or may not be enough - you need to include parking for workers, guests who visit the hotel (like if the hotel has conference facilities or restaurants).

Also the article says "87 additional trips during the evening commute"; this highly suspect, and seems to be a selective statistic to pull from the report. In the morning, if the hotel is anywhere near occupancy, there will be 250+ more people leaving the hotels to go else where, not to mention all the workers who will be arriving to take care of the rooms. And the evening commute, with 297 rooms, they don't expect people to be arriving to check in, or return from business meetings? and what about people who would use conference facilities?

18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 9:10 am

I am not too sure if we should be worrying too much about the parking situation.

I know that the dependency on renting a car at a final destination is an American thing, but not as much as it used to be. As an example, Las Vegas used to be somewhere to do this, but not so much now. Taxis in Vegas are abundant and affordable for those visiting as well as the fact that many attractions are within walking distance of each other.

I know that many business people arriving in Silicon Valley from overseas are not renting cars automatically, although those arriving for business reasons from other US areas probably do. It is possible for someone flying in for say a conference or for several business meetings to survive with Uber and ride share options. If luxury buses could be shuttling people to and from SFO and SJC along the 101 to transit centers up and down the Peninsula right beside the highway, with efficient shuttles to Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. as well as the larger hotels which house conferences, it could make a difference. These differences may take 5 years or so to make a difference, but it could work.

As a result of this idea, hotels would also need to be easily accessible to highway. A "demand" shuttle from these hotels to say a transit center beside 101 at say San Antonio or the Baylands (where there is space to house one) would be an option.

Alongside this type of scenario, a ZipCar facility at some of these hotels would work also. For instance, someone flying in from London, or NY, or Japan, gets to their hotel by this type of transportation. The next morning they get a ZipCar or a shuttle to do their business, or the conference arranges shuttles and even sightseeing shuttles in the evenings.

Making it easier for business people to not need a car is going to have to be one of the aims of transportation planning for the coming decades.

Always assuming that everyone is going to drive is one of the biggest downfalls of efficient traffic management. Of course the family car is not going to go anywhere soon. But the regular commutes and business travel is one of the things that if improved could make a difference.

We have to stop the mindset that only poor people who can't afford to own a car are the only ones to use public transportation. We have to make the public transportation attractive and useful to get the business people and the middle class white collar commuters use it and see it as an acceptable alternative.

A couple of decades ago we would never have imagined that companies would have their own luxury buses shuttling people to work. We have to use that as a template to see what the next innovation can be.

10 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 6, 2015 at 10:33 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

The previous poster (Resident) made most of the points I was going to make. I have two additional thoughts.

1) It is always good (common sense one might say) to read the actual application

The applicants have thought about policies to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips and parking and propose

"the proposed state of the art alternative transportation demand management program (“TDM”) to minimize car trips (TDM will include a hotel shuttle (to airports, local businesses, and mass transit), car sharing platform, mass transit use incentives, and a free bike sharing program)"

2) Think about the location.

This hotel is not ideally situated for Stanford/research Park visitors (there are many closer options) but does seem a good location for visiting the North Bayshore area (headquarters to Google and others) or to hop on 101.

It should be easy for the hotel, perhaps in combination with companies, to run a really good shuttle service around the NB area.

Also the options now available to travelers flying into the area suggest that a growing number will not choose car rental. There are strong convenience and some cost savings from using shuttles or Uber/Lyft or taxis to get to and from the hotel versus waiting to rent a single occupancy vehicle that does not have access to the HOV lanes and Lyft/Uber provide a no need to drive and find parking option to going to restaurant sna the like.

24 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Marie is a registered user.

We need moderate and low-income housing not hotels. I hope the city council is wise enough to retain residential zoning for these sites.

4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 6, 2015 at 5:14 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


We absolutely need more low and moderate income housing.

As the article says, the council is pledged to reexamine the San Antonio housing sites to see if there are better locations where housing including low and moderate income housing is closer to services and shopping.

My perception is that many residents think too much of recent new housing has been in the south of the city and council I think is looking at more northern sites near services and shopping.

13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2015 at 6:22 pm

"We absolutely need more low and moderate income housing."

Realistically, it ain't gonna happen. Developers will always build for max return; they owe that to their investors. BMR don't fill that bill. Building BMR beyond the token required amounts depends on subsidies, either direct through taxes (not near enough anytime soon, if ever), or via overdeveloping job space which more than cancels the effects of the extra housing.

Catch 22 all the way for housing, but mucho mucho $$$$ for builders and investors via the PAF overdevelopment route.

14 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2015 at 7:59 pm

If the hotel is very confident that with Traffic Demand Management will keep additional evening commute trips to 87, the council should put in a $5,000 fine per additional car trip above 87.

18 people like this
Posted by Greenhouse Resident
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 7, 2015 at 2:42 am

Traffic has gotten very bad on San Antonio in the last year or so. All the workers who moved into the apartments that were built near the intersection of San Antonio and El Camino are now clogging San Antonio, especially in the evening commute. Plus the new Google facility at San Antonio and Alma has also added to commute traffic.

I may not get to the council sessions, but I hope someone who reads this can take my points to the council. If the council does push ahead, it should ask for at least the following two items from the developer:

1) Increasing the left turn lane from San Antonio eastbound into the Greenhouse. I imagine there will be many people who will come out of the new hotels and want to go westbound, and then have to make a u-turn at Leghorn Street. This will only further inhibit the ability of Greenhouse residents to turn into our homes.

2) Force the developers to buy an easement from the property behind the hotels so that hotel traffic can also exit onto Wyandotte street. This will certainly relieve some of the traffic pressure on San Antonio. This is so no-brainer, I do not see why it has not yet been proposed.

24 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 7, 2015 at 8:27 am

-We need moderate and low-income housing not hotels-

We need neither. This is the mantra PAF keeps repeating and it spells disaster. We need to stop developing an overdeveloped town with the infrastructure of a small town. The developers will sell the "low to moderate income housing" to the highest bidders, and those bidders will not be low to moderate income buyers. We all know who the bidders and eventual buyers will be, and the end result will be the same as always, an increase in housing prices, density and gridlock, and decrease in quality of life.

8 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2015 at 9:58 am

Marie is a registered user.

Steve Levy. Until the city identifies other parcels for high density low and moderate income housing, they should not approve any zoning changes to facilitate other uses. I think those parcels which are very close to many job opportunities would be fine for housing. I live in South Palo Alto and have no problem adding housing there.

I don't think Palo Alto should be in the business of handing out free upzoning to developers with no upgrading of the infrastructure to handle the additional traffic. The public benefits offered by developers are mostly a joke. The only benefit I would consider is additional public parking to reduce the current major parking deficit in Palo Alto

While I hope for success in the various TDM proposals, the reduction in traffic from those measures should occur before we build more densely. I think our F intersections should increase to C or at least D+ before any additional office space is approved.

1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 7, 2015 at 10:39 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Marie,

I agree that no sites should be eliminated unless and until better sites are included. That is my understanding of council's intention.

I am not a land use attorney but I believe the application does not ask for an upzoning. You can read the application in the agenda packet.

I would be interested in your response to Mauricio's post since he is against the more low and moderate income housing that we support.

27 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm

We presently build as much BMR (below market rate) housing as we can. What we do not build is BMR housing for the population that we vitally need to live close by: police, fire/medic responders, utility and public works personnel. Developers' smokescreens notwithstanding, these people do not qualify for BMR housing in Palo Alto. Historical note: the firefighters union campaigned vigorously against the 800 High Street condo development to protest the truth-challenged propaganda promoting its mandated BMR units as firefighter housing.

What we do build is charity BMR housing. While it fulfills laudable altruistic motives, it is not the housing we need for our town's pressing practical purposes. Yet, as I pointed out in a prior post, nobody has identified a financially viable path to achieving it.

Bottom line: BMR housing is a hucksters' spiel to disguise overdevelopment that makes lots of money for a few investors, but exacerbates our need for BMR housing. This cycle will repeat until we willingly suspend our gullibility.

19 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Dec 7, 2015 at 2:02 pm

These hotels generate very few additional jobs. What they do create is a lot of additional revenue for the city, much more than retail. This is not a good location for housing.

I wish all the goody 2-shoes here would do some rational analysis rather than being knee-jerking against any improvement to the dumpy areas of the city. If these posters controlled the city, more and more of the city would become a dump. What do you think about El Camino -- is there anything between Page Mill and the city line that you think is a civic asset?

14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm

@Maybell neighbor: last I read the Ming's site was likely to become a high end auto dealership, not a hotel.

My primary concern at this point is that CC take a hard look at the cumulative impact of everything that is currently under construction PLUS what is in the pipeline PLUS what they know developers want to put in the pipeline PLUS the inevitable infrastructure maintenance work that will be needed PLUS the current gridlock PLUS realistic traffic projections for the future PLUS county plans for certain roads PLUS capacity of schools, hospitals, and public transportation. Palo Alto is showing signs of being a city that is overwhelmed by its success. Frankly, I think we need to ask if we need to make some changes at City Hall b/c the problems are getting worse rather than better.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2015 at 2:30 pm

[Post removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Whether the hotels' visitors use Uber/Lyft, or a regular taxi that still means automobile trips. Because these drivers have to either drive to the hotel to pick their passenger up, or drop then off and drive away. Double trips compared to a rental sitting in the parking garage that only goes out and comes back once. And zip cars are the same as rental cars. It's still a car trip. What's the difference, except possibly not using the rental car to drive to and depart from the hotel if a hotel shuttle is used.

The consultant who came up with the number of automobile trips must have picked a very narrow range to come up with so few trips, perhaps they have just counted cars between 8 and 8:30 am. We all know the rush hour is "hours" both in the morning and in the late afternoon/early evening.

18 people like this
Posted by Office Park
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2015 at 3:34 pm

I am outraged that I now live in a town that has become an office park. Huge, poorly designed and cheaply constructed office buildings everywhere. It is so cold and unwelcoming. That, together with foreign investors buying up so many residential properties, Palo Alto is being destroyed. How long will it be before the residents realize they live in a overcrowd and overrated town. It is too bad.

6 people like this
Posted by muricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 7, 2015 at 3:49 pm

@Office park, you need to address your very valid argument to Steve Levy. He has relentlerssly been pushing for the disastrous vision you complain about for many years. These lower-to-middle-income housing he keeps lobbying for will undoubdetly end up in the hands of foreign investors, and the town will end up worse off. More crowded, more gridlocked and more polluted, more cold and unwelcome. Only the developers and their investors would benefit, certainly not low-to-middle-income families.

11 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 7, 2015 at 4:12 pm

When I lived on the East Coast, I used to travel to the Bay Area on business. For many trips, it was not feasible to get around without a rental car.

I might have a morning meeting in one town, an afternoon meeting in a second town, and a dinner meeting in a third town.

Even if alternative options that served my destinations were available, there wouldn't have been time to use them. It's not like taking the subway in a large city.

Sure, there are cases where the traveler is only going back and forth between the hotel and a single destination, but that is only one scenario.

Public transportation and shuttles might work for some travelers, but we should expect many business people will need (not just want) a car.

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