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Luxury hotel threatened by zoning discussion

Original post made on Oct 16, 2008

It's unclear whether plans to build a Four Seasons-like luxury hotel across from Stanford Research Park will go forward, after Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved a zoning change that would allow for future development but said the hotel doesn't meet those zoning requirements.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 16, 2008, 1:03 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm

The elephant-in-the-room for the zoning is how it will increase congestion at the El Camino/Page Mill intersection.
And there are significant traffic increases already in the queue (Google occupying the former Agilent building, the project at Park and Page Mill, expansion in the Stanford Research Park).

Currently, the intersection's rating is just short of "failing." The worst is north-bound El Camino: At many times of the day, you have to wait through 2-3 cycles of the light, and occasionally 5-6 cycles. The situation would be much worse if it wasn't for people turning onto east-bound Page Mill cutting through the residential neighborhood (on Pepper and Olive). In the early 2000s, I served on the Citizen Advisory Group for Caltrans/El Camino Resign study and counted the cut-thru traffic during evening rush hour: The overall cut-thru volume was slightly more than that turning at Page Mill. However, at times pedestrians were crossing Page Mill, the volume on EACH of Pepper and Olive were greater than that at Page Mill. My assessment was that small increases in pedestrian traffic at this intersection could cause outsized increases in congestion.

Part of the solution for this problem was to add a right-turn lane on north-bound El Camino, with the land coming from the fronts of the existing properties (the AT&T store and the former Old Pro) when they redeveloped. However, the City 1quietly rescinded this plan, allowing the office building that replaced the Old Pro to occupy the reserved space. This thereby effectively makes the cut-thru traffic on Pepper and Olive critical in keeping the PM/ECR intersection from failing. Having a development - such as the proposed hotel - add traffic to this cut-thru would seem to be a recipe for disaster.

The plan for the PTOD zoning (Pedestrian/Transit Oriented Development) was based on the mantra that pedestrians reduced congestion, ignoring that fact that in certain circumstances, such as the one here, they can increase congestion. My observation was that a single pedestrian crossing reduced the intersection's capacity by 4-8 cars (depending on how aggressive the drivers were). The PTOD plan adds a pedestrian crossing at Ash (1 block east of El Camino), but the plan did not make any assessment of how this would increase congestion. Since the County is attempting to increase traffic volume on Oregon/Page Mill, it is unlikely that they would approve such a crossing (study after study has shown that tunnels and elevated crossing are little used except in very special circumstances).

My assessment of the PTOD zoning was that it allows developers to replace business with high-density housing without having to make any realistic accommodation for the traffic generated by that housing.

Posted by "destination palo alto" is a joke
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 16, 2008 at 2:59 pm

So much for "Destination Palo Alto".

Apparently the city wants to bring tourism and hotels to Palo Alto while not having any increase in traffic. Impossible!

When you're talking about a suburban town as spread out as Palo Alto it's hard to imagine tourists walking around everywhere.

Why bother dealing with Palo Alto's development board when you can just build in Mountain View or E. Palo Alto. It's no wonder why the 4 Seasons didn't even consider Palo Alto... they were smart enough to go straight with E. Palo Alto.

Does everything in this town have to end up like the Hyatt Regency and it's 7 year long Palo Alto process?

Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2008 at 3:05 pm

That is the way things "work" here in Palo Alto--a dedicated few people can hold up everything and anything using the PA process and the fear of the city council of upsetting anyone.
Get ready for a repeat with the Edgewood Plaza redevelopment now that Bob Moss has entered the fray

Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 8:07 pm

We build soccer fields on prime real estate and let the other cities rape our tax base.
Been in Palo Alto for 27 years. each year i spend more of my money outside my city.

Posted by Annoyed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 17, 2008 at 8:24 am

I'm with Tim (though only 18 years for me). We talk about hotels and car dealers being the "Holy Grail" of tax revenues for Palo Alto and then we jerk them around. This project's going to go the same way as the Hyatt and what'll we end up with? More housing developments, more traffic anyway, more burden to schools and infrastructure and NOTHING in ongoing tax revenues.

I don't understand why folks in government are so calloused and arrogant about these crucial tax revenue opportunities. I deplore our stance and wish we could approve this hotel.

Posted by jack
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 17, 2008 at 10:13 am

i wish people would just vote instead of complaining.

Posted by No hotel shortage
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 17, 2008 at 10:20 am

There are quite a few hotels being built.
The Sheraton is building another one,
Stanford is putting a hotel up in the shopping center,
Mings is going to build a hotel,
the Palo Alto Hotel downtown is being redesigned,
and I think there is a hotel going up on Palo Alto Bowl.

Posted by Take a chance
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 17, 2008 at 10:40 am

Only in Palo Alto. We make a huge publicity effort to have "Destination Palo Alto" a program costing the City several hundred thousand dollars to implement; then we turn down the opportunity to build a luxury hotel in a central location known only for its soccer fields!!!

Yes, traffic is bad at El Camino and Page Mill, and it will get worse whether or not the hotel is built.

The location of the proposed hotel is not exactly a place of beauty right now. Building this hotel may or may not improve a rather neglected block. What is the alternative, another ugly block of apartments. Something will be built there, a developer is not going to sit on a prize piece of PA real estate and not make money out of it.

Go for it, take a chance at least you'll generate revenue from the hotel tax and boost this expensive program called "Destination Palo Alto."

Posted by it's not real yet, it's only on paper
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 17, 2008 at 10:05 pm

"There are quite a few hotels being built.
The Sheraton is building another one,
Stanford is putting a hotel up in the shopping center,
Mings is going to build a hotel,
the Palo Alto Hotel downtown is being redesigned,
and I think there is a hotel going up on Palo Alto Bowl."

Sure, lots of hotel projects currently in design and planning, but NOT approved. Until the architectural review board actually approves these proposed hotels they're all fantasies.

Let's not jump the gun... don't forget about all the traffic studies, hearings, environmental reports, permit processing and approval these hotel designs will go thru before actually becoming real brick and mortar buildings.

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2008 at 10:33 pm

are any of you people aware that the residents of Pepper Avenue only recently got rid of the loud, obnoxious Old Pro patrons who used to revel drunkenly in that residential neighborhood? Or that, despite the fact that impatient drivers regularly speed through that street to avoid the light at El Camino and Oregon Expwy, the City took years to install even the (relatively ineffective) speed bumps to protect the many kids who live on that block? To you, this may be a part of town known only for soccerfields, but to residents of that street, a huge luxury hotel looming over their backyards with what looks to be insufficient parking --likely to result in impaction AGAIN on that street-- will really destroy what is left of the neighborhood. There are other locations closer to the train station that would not require a change in zoning to allow a hotel to be built.

Before you condemn these neighbors who have been very beleaguered over the years, ehy not spend some time on the street and imagine how very destructive it would be to place a hotel exactly there. And imagine how you would feel if a luxury hotel went up with 4 stories looming up and staring into your backyard.

Posted by zanon
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 18, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Douglas Moran is right. A new hotel will just increase traffic, congestion, and global warming.

we don't need it.

they should abandon the hotel, and put up a park instead. better for property values, children, everything! win win win.


Posted by Gail
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2008 at 2:45 pm

When I look at the corner of El Camino and Page Mill, I see MONEY that might have been:
a performing arts center, a convention center, meeting and reception rooms. Instead we have soccer fields for which Palo Alto sold to Stanford its' birthright' for a measly $1.00 or so a year. In return Stanford got 100,000 additional square feet of building space in the industrial park and the right to build hundreds of housing units on California Avenue west of El Camino.

Remember that night before the city council with Councimember Kleinberg emotionally appealed for soccer fields for CHILLLLLDRENNN....with all the little soccer players in their uniforms with parents. All that scene needed was a band. So Palo Alto wants to be a tourist center - for what? What is to really see here? The Baylands are dead weed unattractive. Crime is rampant. Streets are terrible. And we are shelling out $450,000 to make Palo Alto a tourist center. It could have had a CENTER but it has soccer fields. Stanford is a tourist destination and takes care of Stanford but it has lousy parking.
And with this economy - who's traveling?

Posted by For the chilllldrennn
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2008 at 3:56 pm

"Remember that night before the city council with Councimember Kleinberg emotionally appealed for soccer fields for CHILLLLLDRENNN....with all the little soccer players in their uniforms with parents. All that scene needed was a band."

I remember it well. That is exactly what happened. The phony sentimentality combined with political points she earned from her buddy in the Stanford Development office.

Posted by Out of Towner
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2008 at 8:49 pm

<< So Palo Alto wants to be a tourist center - for what? What is to really see here? >>

Gail is right. I live far from P.A. now but was born and raised there. The only reason for me to visit now is to see family. The city's history has been as a university town and as a bedroom community for said university and for the high-tech industry. Palo Alto will never be another Boston, New York or San Francisco no matter how much hotel capacity is built. WRT lodgings, I get MUCH better bang for my buck a couple of cities away. This whole "Destination Palo Alto" notion strikes me as silly. Every commercial bub needs office space. Do you really want to see 15-story high-rises popping up along University and California avenues? I know, you need the tax revenue to build multimillion-dollar libraries.

Posted by Out of Towner
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm

<< Every commercial bub needs office space. >>

Make that "commercial hub".

Posted by Greg K
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Did I read the article right? The hotel will have only 100 rooms? How many extra cars on the road will that generate? There are already a dozen hotels and motels along El Camino Real that create 50 times as much traffic. And the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of employees at the Stanford Research Park probably create thousands of times as much traffic as a new hotel. Besides, when those companies have out-of-town guests, if they don't stay in Palo Alto, they will have longer commutes and create more traffic.

Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2008 at 11:15 pm

I believe that the groundwater is highly toxic on the site where the soccer fields are located, this is why a hotel was not built here - yes there was a land swap deal with Stanford.

The soccer field site had an old gas station on it and is near a highly contaminated industrial spill site.

Underground parking in contaminated soil and water are a problem

The same problem exists where the new hotel is slated to be built - you cannot build underground parking.

Ditto for the proposed development on Park.

There have been many toxic spills in the Research Park / Page Mill area over the years.

Traffic (from employees and deliveries), pulling out onto Page Mill from any business would definitely be a problem.

As for transit oriented, let's get real. Most people will drive.

The LEED points for a transit oriented location are simply are ridiculous for certain suburban projects.
Very few people are going to take the train or a bus to dine in a "luxury" restaurant or stay in a super expensive hotel.

As for high end hotels and restaurants, most companies like HP have a max that they allow their employees and visitors to spend - just like Stanford.

I think the developer and city are not being realistic here.

Better check on the corporate spending caps for dining and hotel stay.

The city planners are short sighted with their greed - just like the developer.

I agree with arguments put forth by both Mr. Moss and Mr Moran.

They know our city well.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Arthur Keller, Palo Alto planning commissioner, opposed to the hotel as not being pedestrian friendly. He was quote in the Weekly on 10/17 that "It (the hotel) doesn't quack like a duck; it doesn't walk like a duck". For me, I don't want a duck in this site. Now there is goose that can lay a gold egg (with the hotel and tax revenue) being offered. I strongly suggest that we take the goose instead of the duck.

Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Don't count your chickens before they hatch!

Stanford University is building it's own luxury hotel and spa near Sandhill Road. It will have 120 rooms. It is scheduled to open in 2009.

To fit into the architecture of the area, the hotel will only be one and two stories tall, with Spanish tile.

If I were visiting, and had tons of money to spend on a hotel, I would stay rather stay there and not on Page Mill Road.

It is likely that the University will discount rates for visiting guests.

This "egg" may not be golden, but rotten - (whether it comes from a goose or a duck).

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