Menlo Park: Hotel developer, neighbors must compromise, commissioners say

A rendering of the proposed new hotel at 1704 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. (Photo courtesy RYS Architects/Hampton Inn.)

After spending years redesigning plans for a proposed Hampton Inn hotel at 1704 El Camino Real in Menlo Park in response to a chorus of unhappy residents, developer Sagar Patel says that construction costs have escalated so much that the plans had to be redesigned again.

Now the proposal is for a three-story, 68-room hotel with ground-level parking instead of an underground garage, with a larger footprint.

The original proposal, made public in December 2016, showed a "modern farmhouse" architectural style. It has since been reworked to be in the "Spanish eclectic" architectural style after a previous commission discussion.

The project has been redesigned to have at-grade parking on the east side of the ground floor, and an entry with a lounge, a lobby and a dining area (intended only for hotel guests to eat breakfast) on the ground floor on the side facing El Camino Real. The guest rooms would be on the second and third floors.

The building as proposed would be 37,787 square feet, 42 feet tall at its highest point, and built at a density requiring some form of additional contribution to the public.

The developer also proposes to remove all 15 trees on the site, six of which are considered "heritage" trees, and install 52 parking spaces, with room on site to accommodate a total of 68 vehicles using valet parking.

Expected excavation costs put the price tag at about $80,000 per parking spot, Patel said.

The developer would also have to provide $256,480 in fees toward the city's below-market-rate housing fund.

The project is expected to generate about $661,000 in hotel taxes annually.

Neighbors' objections

At an Oct. 8 Planning Commission discussion about the proposal, commissioners heard from a number of people, mainly nearby residents, who had circulated a petition in opposition to the revised hotel plans.

"We've worked since the fall of 2016 with the city and developer to arrive at plans that allow for the improvement of this site while taking neighborhood concerns to heart," said nearby resident Susan Neville in a public comment. "We're here tonight with a different story."

She believes the changed plans are not well-designed, and she prefers the parking to remain underground, she said.

"We're not opposed to this property," she said, adding, "The question is whether a project this large in this location should go forward at all."

Scott Barnum objected to the scale of the building and added, "When you're there in situ, it's a different story," he said.

Others raised concerns about resident privacy, arguing that hotel visitors might be able to see into their backyards from the higher levels. They pointed out that while the address of the building is El Camino Real, the hotel will be set back far enough to be in what could be considered the middle of the neighborhood.

Commission response

Commissioner Andrew Barnes asked the developer to be more transparent about the expected costs to demonstrate why it is no longer possible to put the parking underground.

Commissioner Drew Combs said that reconfiguring the third floor further, fitting in the needed number of rooms to still preserve privacy for the neighbors on two sides of the hotel, would be a tricky task.

"I do think that could put us in a Faustian bargain between neighbors to the east and the neighbors to the south," he said. "I do accept that that is a Gordian knot which I can't untie up here."

Ultimately, though, people who have problems with the new Hampton Inn proposed at 1704 El Camino Real should be prepared to compromise, commission chair Susan Goodhue indicated.

"In these situations, people don't get everything they want. There have to be compromises," and they can't all be the developer's, Goodhue said.


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17 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 10, 2018 at 8:42 am

Good job Drew looking out for the residents there. Susan, we are tried having these developers make $$$$$ on us residents. No we as residents were here first and we don’t want to share more space with developers, unless they get in line! Drive in traffic on Marsh and willow.... Susan!

13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 10, 2018 at 10:00 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The public benefit bonus is NOT an entitlement and it would be a significant financial grant from the city to the developer.

Any public benefit bonus must be justified by an analysis of both the benefits and the COSTS of such a bonus.

The DSP states
"The study session(s) should incorporate appropriate fiscal/economic review (with work overseen by
City staff), which should broadly quantify the benefits/costs of the bonus FAR/density/height and the
proposed public benefit."

Those costs have not either been identified or quantified and many of those costs will be borne by the neighbors.

In the case of this project the staff reports strongly suggest that the granting of the public benefit bonus has been assumed.

When and where will the required "structured negotiation" for the 1704 ECR public benefit bonus take place?

Will this be done behind closed doors?

Or has it already been done?

I predict that unless the developer goes back to the previously acceptable to the neighbors underground parking plan ( which greatly reduces the above ground mass) that the granting of a public benefit bonus will be fought at the PC level, at the Council level and in the courts.

Without the public benefit bonus this project is dead.

And even if that battle not to grant a public benefit bonus is eventually lost (which I don't think it will be because using the TOT to justify a public bonus without looking at the cost is just the city taking a bribe at the cost of the neighbors) the delay will doom this project.

14 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2018 at 10:59 am

Of note, hotel owner Sagar Patel lives in the Forest Park town hone community which is situated around and next to his hotel. However his home is not among those impacted by his project.

Drew and Susan if you can only empathize with developers you should remove yourselves from the commission so that our residents and their homes can be properly represented.

Perhaps we should have a state law the commissioners and council members are not allowed to accept political contributions for a period of 20 years from either side of projects they rule on.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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