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Developers of The Barlow commercial center in Sebastopol have started the formal planning process for Hotel Barlow, a 60-room inn, spa and cafe targeted for opening in November 2015.

Though the hotel was not part of the initial concept for the mixed-use development on the east edge of town, proprietor Barney Aldridge said it became clear as construction was underway and tenants were being signed that a hotel fit the center's evolving landscape.

Aldridge and his partners envision a boutique hotel reflecting Sebastopol's "eclectic and agricultural identity," in keeping with the theme of The Barlow as a whole, which was built on the site of a landmark apple processing plant that also gives the project its name.

It would be operated by The Palisades Hospitality Group, which runs the El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma, the North Block Hotel in Yountville, and the Solage "modern luxury" hotels, one of which is in Calistoga.

Four existing structures in The Barlow commercial center would be converted to guest rooms and attendant features, with the idea of providing lodging to those who come to enjoy the artisanal food and beverage producers and other retail establishments in The Barlow, as well as providing an entree to the downtown core.

Although part of the approved Barlow project, the hotel has a number of hurdles to clear for approval, Planning Director Kenyon Webster said. The project would be subject to public input and official hearings, including consideration of a negative declaration if initial studies indicate a full environmental impact report is not needed.

Once city staff have reviewed the project, it would need to go to Sebastopol's Design Review Board for approval, need approval of a use permit from the Planning Commission, and City Council approval of a variance from flood ordinance regulations, Webster said.

"Sonoma County tourism is growing. Right now, typically, Healdsburg or Sonoma - that's where all the tourism seems to be," Aldridge said. "But they now have a third choice, and I might argue, a more interesting choice."

The hotel would represent a potential boon to Sebastopol, increasing prospective transit occupancy tax revenue by a projected $300,000 annually - roughly doubling current collections, Mayor Robert Jacob said.

The hotel proposal says it would provide the equivalent of 60 to 80 new jobs.

It would also add to the city's relatively low inventory of hotel and motel rooms in a community seeking to extend its capacity for tourism, at a price level — $200 to $300 a night — not available in the community, Jacob said.

Sebastopol currently has the 31-room Sebastopol Inn just across Highway 12 from The Barlow, and the 82-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Highway 116 at the south end of town.

The owner of the French Garden restaurant on the west side of town has permit approval for an 18-room hotel, Webster said, though it's not clear when construction is planned.

Aldridge and project manager Peter Stanley, who worked on the entire Barlow development, said the beauty of the Hotel Barlow is what Stanley calls "the synergies that could happen with people who are there 24 hours a day."

A round-the-clock presence "to me is what sort of livens up a downtown," Stanley said. "There's this energy all the time. It doesn't just go dark."

The project requires three of four buildings used for the hotel to be augmented by second stories to accommodate guests rooms, a fitness center, wellness center and other amenities, according to the proposal.

That includes the north end of an elongated building occupied by the new Community Market.

The hotel "will be a place," said Aldridge, "where you can eat really healthy, relax, exercise and then walk out of the hotel property into The Barlow community and downtown Sebastopol."

Plans include providing a fleet of beach cruiser bicycles for use by hotel guests so they can leave their cars behind when exploring central Sebastopol or riding local bike trails, Aldridge said.

The Barlow is in escrow to buy the defunct Shamrock batch concrete plant a short way up Morris Street to ensure plenty of parking, Aldridge said.

Aldridge and his associates obtained City Council approval last July of a zoning amendment that opened the way for hotel development.

Conversion of buildings that had been intended for retail use means the hotel would produce less traffic, Webster and others said. In addition, vehicle trips associated with places of lodging typically occur off peak-hours.

"We'll see what the study says," Webster said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)