Sonoma Hotel returns with housing component

Some call for more residential use, as scoping session a first step to revised EIR.|

Revised plans to build a 62-room hotel and 80-seat restaurant just off the Sonoma Plaza have surfaced after the last proposal in December 2019 was in limbo as project supporters addressed earlier community concerns and waited out the worst of the pandemic.

Still, further questions were raised at a city Planning Commission meeting Thursday about the West Napa Street development’s potential effect on parking, traffic and the environment, and whether it should be required to include more affordable housing.

The updated proposal by Kenwood Investments now includes an eight-unit, market-rate residential condominium building and the designation of seven existing on-site units, in what’s known as the Lynch Building, as affordable housing.

Commissioners and members of the public offered feedback on plans for a revised environmental impact report, which city officials say is required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act on the 1.24-acre downtown lot.

“It’s going to have to be as extremely detailed as any” such environmental report in Sonoma, said Sheila O’Neill, a planning commissioner.

The hotel has been under close scrutiny since it was first proposed nearly 10 years ago. Developer Kenwood Investments is owned by Darius Anderson, who is also the managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Sonoma Index-Tribune, The Press Democrat and other regional multimedia publications.

In addition to the hotel, restaurant and new housing elements, the project also includes a spa with six treatment rooms, a raised swimming pool veranda and 130 parking spaces.

Bill Hooper, speaking before the planning commission on behalf of Kenwood, conceded that the fires and pandemic “have pushed this (project) down the road.”

“With (a new city planning staff) having fresh eyes on (the project), their opinions were taken very seriously to essentially rewrite this thing and make sure that all the things that were problematic in the past and hard to understand are fixed,” Hooper said at Thursday’s meeting.

Steve Page, who supports the development, said there already had been much focus on the hotel part over the years and urged the commission to shift its attention to the remaining unvetted issues.

Resident David Eichar said he’d like to see the environmental impact report include a project alternative that contained a 50% housing component, as well as further study of pedestrian safety issues that may arise on West Napa Street.

A residential component is required under Sonoma’s municipal code for commercial developments of a half-acre or larger, unless the planning commission waives it. That housing would “normally comprise at least 50% of the total proposed building area,” according to the municipal code.

A couple of residents noted the project’s potential effect on climate change and asked that the environmental report include air miles from long-distance travelers in its review of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the hotel occupancy.

Other commissioners also raised questions about water consumption, parking and the development’s lack of housing.

City staff said next steps will include drafting a rigorous project description, reviewing the initial environmental impact report and revising sections that need further analysis. Those elements eventually will be packaged into a revised draft environmental impact report that will be circulated to the public for examination and more feedback.

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