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Hotel plan still "too massive" for some


Published: November 21, 2008

THE BOUTIQUE hotel slated to replace the Carmel Sands Lodge will either bring new life to a lackluster part of town by doing away with an ugly motel and asphalt parking lot at San Carlos and Fifth, or it will block views and cost people jobs, according to comments made during the Carmel Planning Commission’s second hearing on the proposal last week.

Architect Eric Miller described changes made to the proposal in since it was introduced in August, but commissioners made no decisions Nov. 12, instead opting to wait until after Dec. 3, when the public-comment period closes on an environmental study of the 58-room hotel.

Business partners David and Harry How hope to tear down the 42-room Carmel Sands motel and Kurt’s Carmel Chop House restaurant to build a 58-room hotel (including one manager’s unit), day spa, tapas bar, rooftop deck and 68-space subterranean parking garage.

In August, the commission requested changes, including a public walkway that would encourage people to explore the property, no buildings larger than 10,000 square feet, a more inviting Mission Street frontage, preservation of more trees, a wider range of materials and styles among the buildings, lower heights and as many green practices as possible.

Last Wednesday, Miller explained how he addressed their concerns. He said he drew inspiration from other notable buildings in Carmel, such as the Cypress Inn, and wanted to create a hotel that would draw people in.

“These truly are wonderful elevations that create a rhythm,” he said. “They are five different structures that create 14 or 15 different facades.”
His revised drawings included a stone facade and arches for the corner building, separation of the buildings, and more variety among doors, windows, railings and other design elements.

But all the structures are two stories, and two parts — the elevator tower and the stairwell accessing the rooftop deck — exceed the 30-foot height limit, according to planning and building services manager Sean Conroy. The commission can grant exceptions to height limits in the commercial areas for “special design features.”

Miller said the new restaurant in the Hows’ hotel would complement Casanova Restaurant across the street at Fifth and Mission.

“Casanova is the best building there, and that’s the one we most tried to embrace,” Miller explained.

‘A lot of little boxes’

Even with the design changes and the addition of a walkway from Mission Street to the interior courtyard, neighboring property owner Catherine Compagno remained critical.

“That’s not Carmel — a lot of little boxes,” she said. “I know they’re trying, but it’s still one large, massive project that doesn’t look like Carmel.”
She doubted the 68-spot garage would provide enough parking, wanted the rooftop deck removed and said a full environmental impact report, rather than the lower-level analysis suggested by the hired consultant, should be conducted.

(According to the “mitigated negative declaration” released Nov. 13 and available for public review and comment until Dec. 3, the major potential impacts of the project, such as noise and dust, would occur during construction could be reduced to less than significant levels by taking certain measures.)

Casanova Restaurant owner Walter Georis said he would not take a position on the project but suspected its construction would negatively affect his business, especially during lunchtime when construction crews are at work.

“The noise issue is going to be a significant issue for us,” he said. Casanova generates about one-third of its income during lunch, and if construction drives customers away, Georis said he would have to fire loyal employees.

“Most of them have been with us 10 to 20 years,” he said. “We know their families and feel responsible for their livelihoods.”

“There is significant buzz in the village about this project,” added former city councilwoman Barbara Livingston. “There’s a lot of concern that it’s too massive.”

Developer Steve Dallas took issue with the height, the uniformity of building styles and materials, and said the rooftop deck “could affect the whole neighborhood.”

Defending the proposal, Monte Verde Street resident Fred Kern pointed out the city budget relies on hotel taxes, but much of the city’s lodging is outdated and substandard.

“Most of my friends who come to visit have to stay in Pebble Beach or Spanish Bay, because they can’t find rooms to meet their needs,” he said. A new hotel would help keep their dollars in Carmel.

“This is a great project for this town,” added Cheese Shop founder John McCormack. “This side of town has some old, sad buildings, and this is going to draw people into this side of town.”

He also said the head of Peninsula Petroleum, which owns the Shell station next door, asked McCormack to pass along his positive recommendation.

Shorter, smaller

Also finding the design too large for the corner and block along Fifth Avenue, commissioner Jan Reimers asked if Miller could reduce the height in any of the buildings, but he said handicap access and a desire to avoid flat roofs made that difficult. She suggested at least part of it be made one story instead of two, even if that means reducing the number of hotel rooms.

Commissioner Steve Hillyard wondered if the new hotel would stick out, considering the architectural style it emulates is found more on the south side of Ocean Avenue.

Hillyard complimented Miller’s efforts to redraw the Mission Street side so it wouldn’t seem as if the hotel was presenting its back to the street — a complaint Compagno made at the August hearing — but said the walkway was too long and narrow.

“It’s really an alley,” and not very inviting, commented chairman Bill Strid, who was mildly complimentary and stated the project would be better than the hotel and parking lot there now.

Though he asked if the owners would consider removing the rooftop deck, commissioner Robin Wilson praised the project.
“We have a perfectly beautiful elephant in our living room, and it could well be that that’s what Carmel needs right now,” he said.