Design review eyes hotel project
The Sonoma Design Review Commission sent Chateau Sonoma “back to the drawing board” Tuesday, after outlining concerns in an informal study session.
While praising the concept of an upscale hotel in the heart of the downtown, the commissioners found fault with the architecture, massing, materials, scale and other design features, finding it heavy, inauthentic and “just not Sonoma.”
Chateau Sonoma is proposed to be built on land occupied by The Sonoma Index-Tribune, Chateau Sonoma antique store, a vacant newspaper print building and a large parking lot that wraps behind. It will include a spa, event center, two restaurants, a health club and 2,800 square feet of retail space with a 121-space parking lot to serve the complex. It will front on West Napa Street and will incorporate the three-story Lynch building that currently houses a bank, offices and apartments. Its developer is Darius Anderson, CEO of Kenwood Investments, who also owns Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center and is a majority owner of The Sonoma Index-Tribune.
Michael Ross, project architect and primary spokesman, detailed the design elements of the project, highlighting the design precedents already found around town which are incorporated in the proposed hotel.
Using a PowerPoint presentation developed for the project, he displayed examples of solids (buildings) and voids (courtyards and green space), diversity of styles, massing and scale of existing buildings, quality of materials and textures used, and pedestrian-friendly elements.
Two outdoor cafes will provide an active sidewalk presence, he said, drawing people down West Napa Street, which has less foot traffic than East Napa Street.
“These fundamental aspects of design precede style and represent the intellectual underpinnings of this,” said Ross. He added that greater detail will be shown when a formal review is required later in the process. He also breezed through other elements in his presentation, for purposes of context. The Design Review Commission is charged with reviewing only design, signage, landscaping and demolitions.
A number of people spoke – some who previously spoke at the Planning Commission study session, and others who saw the project for the first time. Issues for the public appeared to be the mansard roof, proposed demolition of two of the buildings fronting Napa Street, the mass and scale of the project, and an intangible element called “feel.”
“I don’t get ‘Sonoma’ from this at all,” said Lynn Clary, a local resident.“It has the wrong feel. It dominates. It doesn’t fit in.” He added that too much was done by “one hand,” making it lose the eclectic character projected by the other buildings in the downtown.
Marilyn Goode had a similar comment, saying it needed to be more fun, more individual, more idiosyncratic. “The building that should be removed is the Lynch building,” she said. “Unfortunately, Chateau Sonoma antiques is the most charming one.”
Tom Whitworth said he struggled with the mass, and pointed out that the project is so big that all the iconic buildings mentioned in the presentation could probably fit together on the site.
At the end of the evening, the commissioners weighed in, stating that they were excited about the prospect of having a hotel in the downtown, but wanted to be sure that it will be an asset and will provide West Napa Street the vitality it needs.
Commissioner Robert McDonald said he believed the mansard roof style made the buildings look top heavy. “It’s like having a big hat on a small head,” he said. “It’s a three-story hotel. Don’t hide it.”
He also stated there were too many second story balconies; he would like to see the lobby building closer to the street; and preferred not to see an entry courtyard for automobiles. “It’s like a big missing tooth,” he said. “It would not be a desirable place to sit or be a pedestrian.”
While parking is not in the purview of the DRC, McDonald said he would like to see a European concept used. A valet picks up your car, parks it somewhere off site, and you don’t see it again until you need it. He also lamented the lack of green space on the ground floor street level, and the lack of street trees.In terms of materials, he said he would like to see more stone, brick and wood used and not so much heavy stucco.
Finally, he said, he wanted to see a uniform sign program for the project, no garbage cans on First Street West, andhe wanted to know where utilities such as fire standpipes will be placed and how they will be screened.
Commissioner Leslie Tippell agreed there was too much stucco, would like to see more Spanish Colonial elementsand was not enamored of the French architecture which did not have “the right feel.”
Commissioner Kelso Barnett shared concerns about demolishing the Index-Tribune building and the Chateau Sonoma building, and echoed comments about “the right feel” and the massing. “This project can have tremendous economic benefits,” he said. “But we don’t want to sell out Sonoma. We want to get it right.”
Commissioner Tom Anderson had to recuse himself because he owns property nearby, and Commissioner Micaelia Randolph was absent.
In other business the commission:
• Approved a sign program for a gourmet taco truck to be located at 1001 Broadway.
• Approved colors and signage for Don and Sons, leasing one of the Nelson buildings at 19150 Sonoma Highway.
• Approved signage for another tasting room, Rumpus Cellars, sharing the South American Secrets store at 5 E. Napa St.