Council opposes conversion of Hotel President to a hotel; wants to save housing

The Hotel President at 488 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo.
The Hotel President at 488 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council, amid an extreme housing shortage, wants to keep a law that is standing in the way of the Hotel President from being converted from apartments to a hotel.

“We need more Hotel President apartment buildings, not fewer,” said Councilman Cory Wolbach at Monday’s (Dec. 10) meeting. Wolbach, who was not re-elected last month and is leaving council in January, said he doesn’t want to see any apartment building or condominium complex downtown converted to a commercial use, such as offices.

The 75-unit apartment building at 488 University Ave. was sold in June for $65 million to the Chicago-based hotel chain Adventurous Journeys Capital, which restores historic hotels in college towns.

Council on Monday had to decide whether to change the Municipal Code regarding whether older buildings that exceed zoning size restrictions could change uses. In the case of the Hotel President, current law prohibits the owners from changing its use from an apartment building to a hotel.

Other buildings downtown that exceed zoning restrictions and want to change uses include the former Cheesecake Factory at 375 University Ave. and old North Face store at 217 Alma St.

Council could have decided to allow residential buildings to change uses, but decided against it.

Commercial vs. residential

Council voted 6-2, with Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka dissenting and Greg Scharff recused, to have the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission look at changing the Municipal Code to preserve residential uses in downtown, but allow for commercial uses to change.

The example often brought up at Monday’s meeting was that the council is willing to see a store change into a restaurant or vice versa, but not see an apartment building turn into a hotel.

The city’s planning commission is expected to take up the issue in the first three months of next year, and then it would return to council.

When AJ Capital bought the Hotel President in June, with the intention to restore the building to a hotel, consternation erupted from all political factions of the city, with Jeff Levinsky, a Palo Alto Neighborhoods activist, pointing out that the law prohibited the new owners from changing the Hotel President into a hotel.

Fine asks people to remember this

Councilman Fine urged residents at Monday’s meeting to remember this controversy with the Hotel President when new housing is proposed in the city.

“The next time a housing project comes before the city, please show up and be in support, because in 30 years that too-dense, too-big, under-parked project may be the next Hotel President,” Fine said.

He pointed out that the Hotel President is well-loved by the community, despite it being too tall, over-parked and having a roof top deck.