The proposal for a 59-room hotel on West Napa Street near the Plaza is off to a good start, based on feedback given at Thursday night’s city Planning Commission meeting.
Of several local residents who spoke Thursday, and the Planning Commission members that followed, almost no one had a negative thing to say about the new proposal — although some did say they were still concerned about traffic, water and other impacts.
The new proposal is really a revised, and very much scaled-down, version of the highly controversial hotel proposal first floated in 2012. Opposition to that proposal culminated in Measure B, a local initiative to limit new hotels in Sonoma to no more than 25 rooms.
The older hotel plans were shelved until the outcome of Measure B was known. It lost by a slim, 124-vote margin in November 2013.
But developers said they heard and understood the concerns behind Measure B, and on Thursday, the new iteration was about half the size of the old one.
“If I look like a long-lost cousin, it’s because I stood here two years ago to introduce our original concept,” began Bill Hooper, president of the proposed hotel’s developer, Kenwood Investments. (Kenwood Investments is owned by Sonoma resident Darius Anderson, who is also managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, owner of the Index-Tribune.)
With the election long over, Hooper focused on what he called a collaborative effort to arrive at the current design. “We think the process was very healthy,” he said. “And tonight you’re seeing substantial changes that are the direct result of the reoccurring concerns about the project,” most commonly architectural style, size and traffic impacts.
Using the screens overhead, Hooper and the hotel’s architect, Michael Ross, presented commissioners with a “revised design that clearly draws from local examples” of architecture in order to fit in with the historic downtown. Renderings show an unadorned design with peaked roofs, gable dormers and deep porches on two stories.
Comparing the old and new designs, Ross said lot coverage went from 98 percent to 48 percent, reducing total square footage from 132,000 to just under 67,000 square feet.
Ross said the new design – which he described as “Sonoma historical” versus the original “French chateau” – contained multiple courtyards and glass walls among its lobby, rooms, spa, pool and single restaurant. The Z-shaped design wraps around existing buildings along the 100 block of West Napa Street, including the Index-Tribune and Feed Store buildings. Underground parking hides 95 spaces, with another 20 above ground.
As a result, “You’re not going to really see and understand the building as a whole from any one place,” Ross said.
“In terms of how it fits into the town, I think it’s being carefully approached and integrated into the urban fabric,” he said, displaying several before-and-after slides to make the point.
The new design seemed to go over well with observers. “I have to admit I was very uncomfortable with the original design,” said Steve Page during the public comment period. “I’m very encouraged by what I see with this new design, I think it’s very fitting.”