Revised plans for a 59-room boutique hotel on West Napa Street were submitted to the Sonoma Planning Department by Kenwood Investments on Friday, and a study session to review the proposal is scheduled before the Sonoma Planning Commission on Aug. 14.
Kenwood Investments is owned by Darius Anderson, the Sonoma developer, lobbyist and philanthropist who is also the managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, owner of the Index-Tribune.
The revised hotel plan – the third iteration to date – has been reduced in size by nearly 50 percent and will no longer house a conference center or second restaurant. On-site parking, which had been planned at ground level under the facility’s second floor, will now be underground, save for 20 spaces at the back of the property on First Street West.
In addition, the Index-Tribune building, which had been slated for demolition, will be preserved and will continue to house the newspaper.
Design of the component structures – of which there will be three – will not follow either of the two previous architectural themes. The first proposed theme was French, an arcane reference to the former French Hotel that occupied the space where the Andersons’ current French antique store, Chateau Sonoma, resides. The second theme was described as “Sonoma Historical” with gabled roofs and touches of Mission tile.
Project architect Michael Ross, of the Sonoma firm Ross Drulis Cusenberry, described the current design as “inspired by existing patterns of design. It’s very difficult to pencil out the building as a whole, because it’s an ensemble of three primary Sonoma patterns.” The separate elements include the hotel restaurant building fronting on West Napa Street, with 20 guest rooms on the second floor; the main hotel building, built around two exterior garden courtyards and including guest reception, 39 guestrooms and a spa; and the hotel basement parking garage.
Thick walls with deeply recessed windows will be constructed of stone, wood and plaster. Part of the facility will be faced with split cut stone similar to the restoration of the Buena Vista Winery building.
Ross said 95 percent of the project will be unnoticeable from the Plaza.
The lobby is now deeply recessed from West Napa Street, a move Ross said “will smooth out traffic flow” and reduce the chance for congestion. Underground parking will accommodate 95 cars, some 20 more spaces than exist in the current parking lot on the site.
An outdoor swimming pool will be set on a raised veranda area, with adjacent landscaping.
Ross said the LEED Certified building will be pedestrian-oriented with a free bicycle fleet available to guests.
Demolition will be limited to the old Index-Tribune printing plant and warehouse building, and the Chateau Sonoma antique store building, which has been determined not to be of historical significance.
Anderson and Ross took the revised plans to Larry Barnett on Friday to get reaction from the man who spearheaded Measure B, an initiative drive to limit new hotels in Sonoma to no more than 25 rooms. The measure failed by a margin of 124 votes in a November 2013 special election.
“I appreciated the invitation to see their plans,” Barnett said after the meeting. “I view it as a positive outcome for the process of Measure B. I’m hoping that 59 rooms doesn’t prove to be too big for the Plaza. The reduction of the footprint (of the project) by 50 percent is obviously a significant change.”
Barnett, a former three-term City Council member and mayor, said questions remain in his mind as to whether Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over traffic impacts on West Napa Street, will require a turn lane into the hotel, which would eliminate some on-street parking. “I’ll be fascinated to see what’s going to happen to this block of Napa Street,” he said.
For his part, Anderson said he agreed the public debate over the hotel improved the project.
“It’s a better project because of that – economically and aesthetically,” he said. “It (the process) worked because it created a dialog with folks. I respect everybody in the process. They all had good points.”
Anderson said plans for the single restaurant are still being developed, but said, “We want it to be a restaurant that attracts tourists, but will also be very accessible to locals.” He said he had rebuffed inquiries from a number of nationally-notable, “out-of-town chefs” because “I want a chef that wants to eat, sleep and live Sonoma.”
Sonoma Planning Director David Goodison said the revised hotel plans may simplify the permitting process. Because one restaurant and the conference center were eliminated, and the Index-Tribune building (“which may be historically significant”) is being retained, Goodison said it’s possible that approval of the project could be done without an Environmental Impact Report. If that were the case, completion of the hotel could be six months to a year sooner.
But Anderson said he expects to conduct an EIR and estimated it would take 18 months to complete that process and another 14 to 16 months to build the hotel.
According to the project proposal, estimated tax benefits to Sonoma would total more than $6.5 million in the first five years of operation. The facility will reportedly provide 75 fulltime jobs.
However long the project takes, it won’t be soon enough for hotel fan Steve Burns, who headed the “No on Measure B” campaign.
“I was so excited to see all the changes,” Burns said. “It’s really a better project. I don’t want to wait. I want it to happen tomorrow.”