Hotel project benefited from community dialogue
EDITOR: As we prepare for the Planning Commission review of the Hotel Project Sonoma, I want to reflect on the last five years and thank the hundreds of engaged community members that took part in the public process to ensure that the hotel meets the needs and desires of the community.
We first announced the Chateau Sonoma Hotel in June of 2012. Since then we have revised the project three times in response to community concerns. The project is now half of its original size and includes a historic Sonoma Monterey style instead of country French architecture. We eliminated a restaurant, a 180-seat conference center and a large athletic club. The design was changed to keep the seven residential units and the surface parking garage that previously covered virtually 100 percent of the site is now an underground garage allowing a more open design.
As CEO of Kenwood Investments, I am proud of the way we have approached the planning process, always with the understanding that the hotel was a community project dependent upon community input and support. Over the past five years the Kenwood Investments team and I have conducted four community meetings, met with service clubs and nonprofits and presented at 10 house parties. We held “office hours” every Saturday for three months so that neighbors could drop-by and give us feedback. This resulted in over 50 one-on-one meetings. The project has been reviewed at two Planning Commission and Design Review Commission Study Sessions, the City of Sonoma Tree Committee and recently received approval from the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Committee. A full EIR has been prepared by an independent group of traffic, parking and engineering consultants working at the direction of the Sonoma Planning Department and Planning Commission.
Through these outreach efforts we have received suggestions and comments from over 500 residents. Many of the thoughtful suggestions have been incorporated in our new community driven hotel design. In addition to the design changes, we also included changes to support disabled access, water conservation and other environmental upgrades that go well beyond code requirements.
In June of 2013, residents engaged in a public referendum process placing Measure B, the Hotel Limitation Measure, on the November 2013 ballot. That measure would have created a moratorium on hotel development over 25 rooms until an 80 percent annual occupancy rate had been accomplished. This would have greatly impacted the City of Sonoma. We are grateful that in the end, after a challenging campaign, the “No on Measure B” campaign prevailed allowing us to continue working on the Hotel Project Sonoma. I truly believe that the dialogue created by Measure B was good for our city and its residents because it examined an important issue – the balance between tourism and quality of life for residents.
Today, with the help of supporters and opponents we have a superior project which will be considered by the Sonoma Planning Commission on Dec. 8. I strongly believe the Hotel Project Sonoma will be an asset to the community. The hotel will provide a living wage, numerous career opportunities and new city tax revenue that will help with future budgeting challenges. I am pleased that Sonoma residents have been thoughtfully engaged with us as we have moved through the regulatory process. I look forward to the upcoming Planning Commission hearing and continued dialogue with the community.