Placerville changing rules for oversized hotel project

On Tuesday, January 17 at 6:00 pm, the Hampton Inn and Suites project will be before the Placerville Planning Commission.  The site is located at 3001 Jacquier Road (Smith Flat Road area).

hampton-inn-north-view
Street view of 4-story proposed Hampton Inn

This project is oversized for the site therefore requiring numerous variances in order to move forward.  If the City would require the applicants to comply with the City’s design standards, such as: required parking, required loading berth (at least one), required signage (especially since this is in a scenic corridor), height limit (allowing 55 feet instead of the 40 foot max. requirement), and street frontage orientation, then the project would be more complementary to the City of Placerville and surrounding neighborhood.

It is discouraging to see the City of Placerville allow this project with so many concessions given to the applicant.  The worst part is the unattractive massive corporate urban design.  As designed this building will be a huge detriment to the Community and particularly to the Highway 50 scenic corridor.  If the building was reduced to 3 stories and turned 180 degrees to face the main road, then the project would be able to comply with many of the other design standards.

The City’s actions to ‘give away the farm’ for no benefit makes no sense.  They are incentivizing an outside corporation by returning $6,000,000 of the required Transient Oriented Tax which creates a disadvantage to competing local businesses.  The $6,000,000 is $2.5 million over the allowed $3.5 million dollar City of Placerville Hotel Incentive Program.

This project is so wrong on so many levels.  It is very obvious that the City IS giving special favors to Hampton for no justifiable purpose.  Contrary to Staff’s statement, the oversized box design with faux material attached to the outside does not compliment the overall building mass.  The structure is typical to any standard hotel in anywhere USA.  This does not generate a feeling of desired architecture that one would expect in Placerville, especially in the quaint town site of Smith Flat.

Rather than sticking to their typical boiler plate design, the City should have required this corporation to design a structure that would complement the site and not allowed an oversized boiler plate design shoved onto a non-typical sized lot.

The following are the comments submitted by Friends of Historic Hangtown to the City of Placerville’s Planning Commission:

The City has defined Smith Flat Road as the Eastern “gateway” to Placerville in which projects should adhere to the community design concept and be an example that defines Placerville’s image.  This project is a corporate boiler plate box, which is not conducive to what the Community of Placerville envisions as their defining image.  Therefore the Smith Flat Road Standards are not being adhered to if this project is allowed.

Staff’s statement that “the aesthetics is not generally considered an environmental issue” dismisses the fact that Aesthetics is an element of CEQA.  Aesthetics is also a critical element to retaining the culture of Placerville and also an important element in regards to the Highway 50 scenic corridor.  The applicants should be required to meet some type of design standard that is in keeping with the Victorian or western theme of Placerville.

It appears that new mitigation needs to be looked at in regards to the wetlands.  Relocating the wetlands to an off-site location does not mitigate the impact that the project has created.  On-site mitigations should be required to protect the wetlands, with a reduction of size this may be possible.

We disagree with the following findings from the City.  Our comments are in red.

The City contends that this request is consistent with General Plan Land Use Element Goal C that states,

“To protect and provide for the expansion of Placerville’s commercial services sector to meet the needs of both Placerville area residents and visitors”; and, Policy 9 that states,

“The City’s planning for commercial areas shall be guided by the following principals: a) Contribute to the City’s objective to become a balanced community;  We do not see how this project contributes to create a balanced community.  The project is not cohesive or compatible to its surroundings.  Its massive, corporate urban design conflicts with the gold rush architecture of this neighborhood.  Therefore, this project should not be approved based on contributing to become a balanced community.

b) Have a positive economic impact on the community;  The City’s push for new hotels is focused on bringing in more Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for economic benefit.  How is this project going to bring an economic benefit when the City is giving back over half of the estimated TOT to the developer?   The developer estimates that it will generate over $11,000,000 of TOT in 20 years, yet the City has agreed to return $6,000,000 as an incentive within the first 20 years.  $2,500,000 of the incentive is beyond the scope of the Placerville Hotel Incentive Program.  What guarantee does the City have that the developer will stay after its incentive is reached? Existing local hotels have just recently recovered from the last recession, so this hotel will seriously impact the small motels ability to compete.   As is common with corporate projects, few, if any, local contractors will get to work on this project.  Also, the second to fourth floors will be built out of the area and then shipped to the site.  There is no fiscal analysis for the project to determine its net economic impact on the City over time.  Therefore, this project should not be approved based on economic benefit.

c) Provide for adequate parking and vehicular access;  This is unlikely since the applicant has requested a variance to the required number of parking spaces.  The City is proposing to grant Hilton’s request to only provide 0.9 parking spaces per unit, rather than follow the City’s standard of one parking space per unit.  Using the City’s standards, the project is short at least 24 parking spaces.  Additionally, Hilton has requested a variance to avoid the 2 required loading berths, which are needed because “deliveries will not be significantly smaller in size and nature to those deliveries required by a full service restaurant.” The future is unknown and not restricted in regards to truck trips to this site. The requirement for truck loading is a basic safety issue for better traffic circulation necessary for a project of this size. Therefore, this project should not be approved based on having adequate parking and vehicular access.

and, d) Be designed and landscaped in a manner sensitive to Placerville’s character”, in that the project has been designed in a foothill theme, has adequate parking and vehicle access, and will have a positive impact on the community through sales and transient occupancy taxes.  A corporate, urban design is not sensitive to Placerville’s gold rush character.  As mentioned before, there is not adequate parking and the project deviates from the City’s standard for streetfront orientation.  Because the size of the structure is more than allowed by City standards, there is not enough room to comply with the City landscape standards.  As stated above, there is no fiscal analysis for the project to determine its net economic impact on the City over time.  Therefore, this project should not be approved based on the statements within principle d.

The City contends, “Due to existing site constraints of topography there are unique physical characteristics specific to the project site, therefore, the granting of the variance requests does not constitute a special privilege not enjoyed by others in the vicinity or in the same zone as the project.”   The topography for this project is NOT any different than much of the topography within the City of Placerville.  Therefore, this variance DOES constitute a special privilege.

Per the Staff Report, “Lastly, staff believes that, when completed, this project will have a significant positive impact, catering to tourist needs and long-term economic health of the community and region.”  Without a Financial Analysis, staff’s belief is purely speculation.

Lastly, this project is not required to perform its own environmental review document, such as an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).  Instead, the City is allowing the project to move forward using old environmental documents from previous proposed hotel projects.  This is concerning because this project is similar to formerly proposed projects, but its size and footprint are different.  Additionally, the former environmental documents were challenged in court and the project was allowed to move forward only after reaching a settlement agreement, which is not included in the Staff Report.

We ask that the Planning Commission require the applicant to adhere to the City of Placerville’s design standards and reduce the overall mass and height of the project to what is required by code in order to comply with the parking, landscape, signage, and orientation standards.  The City should also require at least one loading berth in order to maintain safe accessibility for delivery trucks.

Link to Hotel Incentive Program:  https://evogov.s3.amazonaws.com/media/17/media/9253.pdf

Link to Incentive Agreement for Hampton Inn Hotel:  https://evogov.s3.amazonaws.com/media/17/media/9290.pdf

Link to Staff Report:  https://evogov.s3.amazonaws.com/media/17/media/38315.pdf

hampton-inn-site-plan-view
Site Plan view of proposed Hampton Inn
hampton-inn-aerial-view
Aerial view of proposed Hampton Inn
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