Barlow developer revises plan for Sebastopol hotel

The Barlow developer Barney Aldridge is moving forward with revised plans for a 90-room boutique hotel at his artisanal commercial center in Sebastopol, though it will be at least two years before the inn and spa could be ready to accommodate lodgers, he said.

Forced back to the drawing board because of shortcomings in his previous plan for mitigating flood risks to ground-floor guest rooms, Aldridge has developed a new proposal for another location within The Barlow: the current site of Guayaki Yerba Mate, the beverage maker, on Highway 12.

But the new strategy will require some deft maneuvering because of Guayaki’s long-term lease, on which the company still has six more years. Aldridge said his new Hotel Barlow plan depends on finding suitable alternate digs for Guayaki, though he and company officials already are evaluating “several good options.”

“They’re some of our favorite people, so we’re working directly with them while we’re going through the entitlement process,” he said.

The Barlow, most of which opened for business two years ago, was built and designed around an old apple-processing plant that had fallen into disuse just off the edge of downtown Sebastopol. The 12.6-acre development includes about 50 food, beverage, production and retail tenants in 18 buildings with rustic, barnlike features intended to reflect the region’s agricultural traditions.

The project already was in construction when Aldridge and his partners determined that a hotel would fit into the evolving mixture of tenants.

He has since joined up with the Palisades Hospitality Group, operators of the El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma, the North Block Hotel in Yountville and the Solage brand of “modern luxury” hotels, including one in Calistoga. The Palisades group would operate the Hotel Barlow, as well.

But original plans for retooling three buildings in The Barlow for guest accommodations, a pool, event center, lobby, restaurant and bar ran into trouble with the city planning department. The entire project, located just west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, is in a flood zone; but flood-protection measures deemed sufficient for base-floor commercial uses were not adequate for the newly proposed hotel use, which is classified “residential” under the state building code, Aldridge and city Planning Director Kenyon Webster said.

Structures containing ground-floor guest rooms either needed to be elevated, or the developers needed to work out some secondary flood protection strategy that was satisfactory, Webster said.

Efforts to expand on the existing flood protection system still were underway when the developers decided not to proceed with their initial plan.

Aldridge said the aging building Guayaki occupied when he first bought the property in 2007 could use a makeover, anyway.

As long as he is going to spend millions of dollars to build a hotel, he said, it makes more sense to invest it where the work is needed anyway, rather than to renovate three new structures as would have been required under his original plan.

The newly proposed hotel site “is the one building that really needs attention,” Aldridge said. “It’s the one building we didn’t renovate.”

At the same time, there were tenants interested in the spaces that had originally been earmarked for the hotel. Newcomers include a farm-to-table Mexican eatery called Cinco, which is expected to open next year in a front building that had been planned for the Hotel Barlow lobby, bar and restaurant.

The back half of the Community Market building, where Aldridge had planned hotel guest rooms, is being retooled for barrel storage by Kosta Browne Winery, which already occupies space at The Barlow.

Aldridge also has leased part of another building that had been earmarked for the hotel. It will now be used for production and sale of handmade children’s clothing by a company called Little Foreign Friends.

The new hotel plan, completed a few weeks ago, calls for a trio of three-story buildings to be built where the Guayaki building stands now.

A second tenant, Wolford Glassblowing Co., also has space in the building, though its lease is up next June and a new space at The Barlow already has been found for it.

Guayaki’s future location remains in question, though Aldridge expressed certainty the matter would be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Aldridge said he is planning to submit an application to the city in about two weeks seeking to transfer his hotel use permit from the previous site to the newly identified one.

Webster said planning staff would need to evaluate whether the change in location would have any additional environmental impacts, like traffic, that would need to be examined, and then the permit transfer would go to a vote of the city Planning Commission.

Aldridge said he would be working, meanwhile, to find new space for Guayaki and would advance the hotel project only with the drink company’s blessings.

Chris Mann, chief executive of Guayaki, said the fast-growing company expected to outgrow its existing space by the time its lease is up and, thus, would be looking at a move then in any case. But company officials also love being part of The Barlow and near downtown, he said, and they have specific needs a new building would have to meet.

“Our intention isn’t to hold up the hotel, but our intention isn’t to move until there’s another good option for us,” Mann said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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