BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Neighbors and nearby hoteliers are rallying against a 100-room hotel proposed to replace Su Hong Chinese restaurant in south Palo Alto, claiming the five-story project would block sunlight and generate too much traffic on El Camino Real.
“Our biggest concerns are really the sheer density, the impact it’s going to have on our people and our trees and huge safety concerns,” said Sharlene Carlson, president of the homeowners association of the 117-unit Palo Alto Redwoods condominiums next door.
Carlson sees the project as too big for the half-acre lot at 4256 El Camino Real. She worries that it will block her neighbors’ sunlight, damage the roots of the redwoods outside their homes and pose a traffic hazard.
“Living along El Camino, it’s already hard to get out of our property,” Carlson told the Post, expressing concern about delivery drivers, buses and Ubers and Lyfts making frequent stops along the red curb. “There’s no place for those people to go park, and then they’ll end up backing up and blocking our driveways.”
Hotel tax at issue
Carlson also lamented that it wasn’t housing being built next door. A mixed-use development with homes and retail would be perfect, but Palo Alto’s 15.5% hotel tax probably makes the project appealing to the city, she said.
“You need housing, but they want the tax, and the developer wants the money that he can get out of building it,” Carlson said. “The city says it wants housing, but it also wants the hotel tax. So we’ve been told repeatedly by the developer that the city’s going to approve this because it wants the (hotel) tax.”
John Hutar, general manager of Dinah’s Garden Hotel across the street from Su Hong, agreed that the project is too large for the lot and would generate too much traffic.
“It just seems really nutty that we would subject our citizens to this for (hotel) tax,” Hutar said. “It’s as if a decision was made to approve, and now we’re going to fit and cut the jigsaw puzzles so that they all fit.”
Dense but legal
But developer Mircea Voskerician said his hotel is in compliance with the city zoning code.
At 51,861 square feet and 50 feet tall (other than an additional 12-foot mechanical screen to cover the rooftop HVAC equipment) the project is dense but legal, he said.
“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort to accommodate the neighbors, to accommodate the city,” Voskerician told the Post. “We are not asking the city to do a favor to us. We are going by the book. We’re following the rules.”
Voskerician said he’d asked planning officials about how he could address neighbors’ concerns about vehicles blocking their driveway, and was told that the Planning Department would handle it.
The project would include 85 parking spaces, plus 13 valet-parked spaces in the drive aisles. Voskerician said that’s enough for a 100-room hotel because many guests nowadays take Uber or Lyft rather than renting a car.
Voskerician initially proposed a 69-room hotel with eight three-bedroom condos. But he later decided to shrink down the size of each room to build a 100-room hotel, big enough to be branded by a large hotel chain.
And he opted against building condos because it would have been too complicated to get housing and hotel approved on the same lot.
Same size, more rooms
The size of the building didn’t increase when he decided to go from 69 to 100 rooms, Voskerician noted, since the rooms are now smaller.
Hutar insisted that Dinah’s isn’t threatened by the competition and said it’s the density he’s concerned about. Dinah’s has 97 guest rooms and 32 suites on a parcel 10 times the size of Su Hong’s.
“If you apply the square-foot density of this project onto Dinah’s 5-acre parcel, that means Dinah’s could grow to be a 1,200- to 1,300-room hotel,” Hutar said. “We oppose it because it doesn’t make sense, and we’re seeing a bit of a pattern now that the city will bend over backwards to accommodate development.”
Voskerician said he’d be thrilled if Dinah’s added 1,000 rooms.
“Can you imagine how much money would go into city coffers? That would be great,” Voskerician said. “(My hotel) will take a lot of their business. If I was him and if I was in his job, I would be worried about it.”
The Architectural Review Board will be holding a public hearing on the hotel at 8:30 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 17) at City Hall. Voskerician said he expects the board to approve it with conditions to come back to planning or a subcommittee for some small adjustments.