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Luxury hotel planned for high-profile downtown Petaluma lot


Downtown Petaluma may be home to Wine Country's next luxury accommodations, and developers are hoping the plan will be embraced, unlike recent swanky hotel proposals in Sonoma and Healdsburg.

In both of those tourist-dependent cities, plans for new hotels have been met with controversy recently. A group of Healdsburg residents is considering seeking a ballot measure limiting the size of hotels, similar to a measure in Sonoma that was defeated last month.

As Petaluma works to attract more tourists, a new hotel likely won't generate as much opposition, at least related to the use and number of rooms.

But its modern stylings will have to face the gantlet in a town that embraces its Victorian west side and simple farm roots.

To be called The Petaluman, the 54-room hotel has been in the works for several years and has undergone several changes in response to changing economic times and public input.

The four-story luxury boutique hotel is planned for Petaluma Boulevard South at B Street on what currently is a long-vacant lot.

Plans submitted last month by the property owner and architect, Ross Jones of Petaluma, show a contemporary design with curved glass balconies facing the boulevard, an angular solar-panel roof, vertical tilework and a small plaza at the entrance, whose focal point is an 18-foot-tall metal sculpture.

Jones describes the $18 million project as "a legacy, landmark property intended to serve the community as a contemporary hub of hospitality and innovation" and provide "an extraordinary, state-of-the-art respite for visitors."

Jones' family has owned the site, across from the Theatre District, since 1963. It formerly housed a Chevron gas station but has been vacant for several years.

If the planning process goes smoothly, Jones said he hopes to open the hotel in December 2015 and employ about 24 full-time workers. Its rooms will start out at about $200 a night, generating between $250,000 and $300,000 annually to the city in bed taxes.

Dave Alden, a Petaluma civil engineer who is helping coordinate the city planning process for Jones, said public feedback has been generally positive, though mixed about the modern feel.

"That's the nature of building," he said.

Several years ago, Jones, then living in Washington state, submitted architectural designs that included an old-looking building, one that would fit in with west Petaluma's Victorian style.

"Now that I live here, I've learned this town is much more sophisticated than I could see sitting at my desk in Seattle," he said.

Instead, Jones interpreted the traditional building materials with an abstract eye. The steel components in the balconies and windows evoke downtown's iron-front buildings. The ceramic tile is a modern expression of old terra cotta work of historic Petaluma, he said.

"There's a way to honor both," he said.

One certain hurdle will be parking. None is planned on-site, although as a downtown property owner Jones paid into an assessment district that built the Keller Street parking garage, which is meant to serve downtown users.

But Jones said he is nearing a deal with at least two other downtown property owners for space that he can offer as valet parking for hotel patrons.

The proposal shows a number of unique features, including a 100-person underground "warm cave bar," a rooftop cocktail and juice bar, and significant use of local art.

It will offer a farm-to-table-themed streetside bistro, an "urban farm" on the roof for youth training and community service projects and rooftop event space for parade viewing or private parties.

Jones said he is expecting to hear back this week from city planners about his proposal.

Although some folks aren't sold on the contemporary look, Alden said he hasn't heard any disagreement about the need for a ritzy hotel. Petaluma has a variety of lodging options, but nothing in the luxury range.

"I've heard nobody question the need for upscale downtown hotels," he said. "It's rare to find that kind of unanimity over a proposed land use."

The first public hearings on the project could be mid-2014.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.