Raising concerns that a Hampton Inn hotel would be too big for the neighborhood and wouldn't provide adequate public benefits, residents of the proposed hotel's adjacent neighborhoods have flooded the public email inbox of the Menlo Park City Council, urging the Planning Commission not to approve the 70-room, three-story hotel.
The commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal tonight (Monday, June 24).
The proposed hotel, where a 28-room Red Cottage Inn sits now at 1704 El Camino Real, is on a property set in about 130 feet from El Camino Real and is in fairly close proximity to the quiet neighborhoods that surround it on three sides.
Residents have raised numerous objections to the project, but one of their key criticisms is the developer's proposal to increase the building's floor-area ratio to be a three-story building -- beyond what would otherwise be permitted in the city -- in exchange for providing the "public benefit" of paying hotel taxes.
These hotel taxes, also called the "transient occupancy tax," are set at 12% per hotel room per night and go directly to the city's general fund. They've become an increasingly significant source of city revenue in recent years.
Left with room to interpret what should constitute an acceptable "public benefit," past Planning Commissions accepted hotel taxes as a sufficient public benefit to compensate for additional density in other hotels in the El Camino Real/downtown area, such as what is now the Park James Hotel.
Now, however, those who live nearby are arguing that that revenue is not enough to make up for the problems they believe a three-story hotel would add to their neighborhood.
Deborah Melmon, a member of the Buckthorn Park Homeowners Association, listed some of those anticipated problems in an email: "When we enter our driveway, we will have a chain hotel looming over us, and all that goes with it: loss of property value, increased traffic, more noise, loss of privacy and quality of life."
"While I am generally very supportive of development in Menlo Park and, especially along (El Camino Real), I do not support having a large Hampton Inn sitting right in plain sight of our main living area," wrote neighborhood resident Eric Easom in a separate email to the City Council. "I’m certain if the negative impacts of the proposed development are considered there is no justification for a public benefit for such a project."
Or, as neighborhood resident Peter Carpenter put more bluntly in an email, "Yes, the Public Benefit Bonus Hampton Inn would be a cash cow for the city, but while the city gets the milk, the neighbors will get the manure."
This discussion comes on the cusp of what could potentially be a time for changes to the city's El Camino Real/downtown specific plan.
On June 11, following a discussion about a potential moratorium on commercial growth, the City Council agreed to take a serious look at the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan that governs the zoning for this property. According to staff, there's a possibility that if the council acts to change that plan while the project is still in the pipeline, the developer might have to make modifications to comply with those new changes.
The Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in Menlo Park.