Public gets look at Chateau Sonoma
Proponents of Chateau Sonoma, the 59-unit luxury hotel planned by Sonoma developer Darius Anderson, fielded questions from an audience of more than 150 people Wednesday evening, during the first public presentation of their project.
Attendees at the meeting, hosted by Anderson at Ramekins Culinary School and Event Center, were given a thorough soup-to-nuts visual presentation by project architect Michael Ross of Sonoma, who detailed design elements, project materials, scale and massing, how the project fits into the downtown, width of sidewalks, history of the site, sustainability features, consistency with the Sonoma General Plan and Development Code policies – even the height and thickness of walls.
“We want you to have an informed opinion,” said Ross, giving the reason for taking “extra care” in making his presentation.
In addition to the hotel rooms, the project will have two restaurants, a health club and spa, 2,800-square-feet of retail and 121 off-street parking spaces in an area that will front on the 100 block of West Napa Street. It will occupy the site of the current Index-Tribune building with all of its parking in back and at the side, and the Chateau Sonoma antique store as well. The Lynch building, a three-story structure occupied by Sonoma Bank, offices and apartments, will remain and become part of the project. Both the Index-Tribune building and the antique store are proposed for demolition. Ross emphasized that no variances will be needed for the project.
Anderson fielded most of the questions and encouraged people to share their opinions. They were not required to give their names, as the meeting was an informal one.
The most strident critic was a woman who feared “gridlock” on West Napa, if the project is approved. She attempted to get total occupancy numbers from both Anderson and Ross, her point being that if the event center and the hotel are full, the restaurants are occupied, and the spa and health club are in use, the attendant traffic would be unacceptable.
Anderson said the answer to the question would be dictated by the approval process, but noted that while theoretically possible, there would probably never be a time when that would occur. People leave events and restaurants at different times, he said. Plus the hotel is being designed for guests who will come, park their car and walk the half block to downtown shops and restaurants.
Another questioner asked if the event center, designed to hold 180 people, is a critical part of the project. Anderson said each component is important and makes up the pro forma for the project. (A pro forma is a document that outlines a project’s financial feasibility for prospective investors.) He added that a traffic study has been done and will be part of the presentation to the Planning Commission. It was noted that the event center capacity is roughly the same as Ramekins.
Concerns related to the Index-Tribune offices and editorial policy, were also raised. Anderson is a majority owner of the newspaper. He answered that the office would be relocated “somewhere in the downtown.” As for the second concern, he stated “we will not influence the process through the newspaper,” but acknowledged that the issue has already been debated by members of the public and people will continue to have their own opinions about it. David Bolling, editor and publisher and a minority owner, added that he has a “hands-off” understanding with Anderson that the majority owner “will not interfere in the free and independent operation of the newspaper.”
An old issue first raised more than a decade ago when a hotel was proposed for the area near today’s Overlook Trail, was revived for this project.A questioner asked if an influx of wealthy people staying at the hotel will shift the character of Sonoma to the extent that we may become “another Napa.”The average daily room rate is proposed to be $465 a night.
Anderson responded that there are differences; people will be close enough to be patrons of local businesses without using their cars, and the room price quoted is equal to some other hotels in the area. “We lose business to other cities because we don’t have enough rooms during the peak season,” he said.He added that wealthy people are already in the community and “haven’t corrupted us.”
A question that perplexed Ross was asked by a man in the audience who wondered, “How will you mitigate pedestrian traffic.” Ross said that had never come up before, but could be raised before the Planning Commission. The speaker alluded to the fact that, on busy weekends, traffic is held up at major intersections around the Plaza because of a continuous stream of pedestrians.
Bill Hooper, president of Kenwood Investments, outlined the benefits of the project. Economic benefits to the city are estimated to be $3.5 million in transient occupancy taxes over a five-year period at an occupancy rate of 60 percent. Additionally, there are projected to be $2.5 million in sales tax and $1.8 million in property tax generated, also over five years. The facility is expected to employ 110 full time and 37 part-time staff, most recruited locally.
Hooper also outlined the community benefits, such as programs in conjunction with the high school culinary and hospitality programs, discount pricing for locals and availability of health club memberships. “Reduced corkage for locals” drew applause.
Other issues that will be handled during the project review process will be whether or not the project must have inclusionary housing, the level of LEED certification being pursued (which alludes to the sustainable elements of the development), the demolition of the Index-Tribune, building which is more than 50 years old, and the density of the infill project.
“I was a little apprehensive at first,” said one speaker. “But I see this as a way to make Sonoma better.”
Another said “You are doing something fantastic. It is not over-building. It is polishing what we have.”
The next meeting on the subject will be a study session before the Planning Commission at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, in the Community Meeting Room at 177 First St. W. Michael Ross is a partner in the firm of Ross Drulis Cusenberry whose office is in Boyes Hot Springs. Keith Wicks, local artist, is an advisor to the project. Kenwood Investments, located in Sonoma, is the project developer.