Any experienced real estate developer needs to be able to gauge where the political winds are blowing. Nader Agha did that in Pacific Grove last month and could tell they were not blowing in his favor for approval of his proposed three-story, 125-room Hotel Durell.
Two meetings in a row – the city Architectural Review Board on March 27 then the city Planning Commission on April 5 – saw more than 20 people lining up to speak out forcefully against the project.
Former P.G. Councilmember Terrence Zito did not mince words. “It’s just a box that’s been tarted up with some trinkets on the outside – the design is hideous,” he said to the ARB. He and others objected to the size and mass of the building, as well as how it would relate to its historic neighbors, including the library and the Museum of Natural History. Resident Jane Haines said the faux wood and stone veneers would make “America’s Last Hometown” look like “every town.” Other residents blasted the project – which includes a restaurant – for introducing traffic and parking woes, and were critical of a city planning process they said was biased in favor of the developer.
The hotel’s zoning was approved by voters in 2012, but Agha has since been unsuccessful getting Hotel Durell approved by the city. It’s been scaled back in recent years, from an original proposal for 275 rooms, to 125. After the latest protests, he and his architects erased five rooms, jettisoned the swimming pool and increased the third-floor setback. “We are right now at the limit of where we can make it or break it,” Agha says.
On April 5, the Planning Commission postponed further discussion to April 19, but Agha’s architects weren’t ready in time, and the meeting was cancelled. The matter is currently scheduled for a May 17 Planning Commission meeting.
Agha’s changes, however, will probably get a similarly chilly reaction from Pagrovians. Five fewer rooms “is meaningless,” says resident and architect Tony Ciani. In his mind, the town deserves a hotel as nice as the luxurious 20-room L’Auberge in Carmel: “I really think this project needs more thoughtfulness. They need to back way up.”
P.G. business owners are supporting the hotel, however, and believe it will bring more shoppers. “There’s nothing happening on those streets right now,” Tom McMahon, chair of the downtown business improvement district, told the ARB. “It’s not a problem that we’ve got too much street traffic. The problem is we don’t have enough.”
Ciani says he wants a hotel too, but “this thing has gone off the tracks.”