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September 22, 2020
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Planning Commission approves hotel

By: Lanny Lowery
May 17, 2019

On Tue., May 13, the Cotati Planning Commission passed two resolutions unanimously that effectively move the building of the Reverb Hotel closer to a reality.  The first resolution found no evidence that there would be impacts that would have a significant effect on the environment.  The Planning Commission approved variances to block length and building height and a Use Permit for the hotel, alcohol sales with entertainment, and outdoor dining on private property in the second resolution.

Commissioners Steven Onines, Neil Hancock, Lisa Moore and Ben Ford favored each resolution 4-0 after hearing presentations by Jon-Paul Harries, Senior Planner; Ken Molinaro, applicant; and a variety of project managers.  Then the four commissioners discussed their concerns and asked their questions.  Ten members of the public offered their input.  Most comments by the commissioners and the public showed support for the project.

Some history behind the project goes back to at least 2009 when the Downtown Specific Plan was adopted.  Six years later, in 2015, Cotati adopted the general plan, and, in August 2015, the city acquired the park and ride property adjacent to Highway 101, where a gas station and Tubby’s Restaurant were once located.  In 2018, two proposals were made and in July a public workshop was held.  The city accepted the Reverb proposal.

Prior to the meeting, the city council chamber filled with the buzzing of more than fifty people in the audience.  Pictures and diagrams lined the walls.  Packets, including a 140 page Planning Commission Staff Report, were available for public perusal.  A 27-page compressed version of the report summarized the request and proposal, examined the General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan Consistency, discussed planning issues and considerations and provided an environmental review.  These, along with a two page agenda, promised an entertaining and informative evening.  (These documents can be found online or at City Hall.)

Most informative, project applicant Ken Molinaro’s presentation included an overview of his family history and his roots in Sonoma County.  He grew up in Santa Rosa, receiving education from St. Rose, Cardinal Newman and Sonoma State University.  He went on to become a real estate developer in Puerto Vallarta for twenty years but now lives in Penngrove with his family.

Molinaro selected the Reverb model developed by Hard Rock as fitting for a community such as Cotati.  The Reverb is a franchise not managed by Hard Rock, and he said, “My family is building this, not Hard Rock.  I personally wanted a family hotel in my neighborhood and was interested in a musical theme.  Music is in my blood.  This is a project I need to be proud of.”  Molinaro sees this as a community project, “more than a hotel, a place for the community to hang out.”

Molinaro first became interested in this project in June 2017 during a Request for Discussion.  He spent the next two years developing a project that would blend in with Cotati’s culture.  He shared his personal excitement: “It’s in my backyard and I always wanted to be a part of the Cotati music scene.”

Laurie Alderman, one Cotati resident who expressed concerns about the project, listed problems in a one-page handout.  She stated, “The city budget is dependent on the hotel going in with sewer connection fees, building fees and impact fees.”  She cited two fire safety issues:  “The Rancho Adobe Fire District does not have a ladder truck to fight a fire four a four-story hotel.”  Also, the concrete wall and trees on the side bordering Gravenstein Highway will impede the ability to fight a fire from the street if needed.  She finds that the county as well as the city will financially benefit.  The $5m recent P-1 sewer project mostly benefitted the hotel, and there were $3m worth of street improvements near the hotel; the developer hasn’t contributed a dime toward either project offered Alderman.

Other people commented on the project.  Teresa Eaton said she did not like the project and thinks that Cotati needs housing rather than hotels.  Aaron Murphy believed that there were more pros than cons and that it was important for Cotati to grow.  Jenny Blaker liked all the comments about sustainability and landscaping but was concerned about the name “Plaza” as it might cause confusion with “La Plaza.”  She would like to see more colorful buildings.  Laurie Ann from Cotati was generally in favor of the project as it would bring in good revenue, and she liked the water plan, use of Sonoma Clean Power and having a plaza for the public.

Bonnie Russell expressed two concerns:  problems with traffic and noise coming from the plaza.  Richard Singhaus reported that he has been waiting a long time to have a hotel in Cotati; good tax revenue, have a hotel to earn income to deal with housing.

Joel Rosenblum, owner of Harmony Garage and other businesses in Cotati for the past 43 years began by wishing the Molinaros success.  His concern about islands preventing left turns into businesses along Redwood Highway were alleviated by City Manager Damien O’Bid, but he still wonders about the feasibility of having only one road out of the hotel complex.  Bea worried about traffic cutting through St. Joseph’s Church.  Erin Armstrong, President of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce does not want to see people coming to Cotati events and then leaving to other towns for lodging.  She believes that the hotel will be a good fit and aesthetically pleasing to Cotati.

Each of the planning commissioners had his or her view.  Lisa Moore stated, “I like the project, it’s more sustainable, and music is like Cotati.”  Steven Onines noted that he was impressed with the project as was Neil Hancock who went on to say, “I like the way the buildings are staggered and I like the eternal pedestrian parkways as well as the sound wall.”  Ben Ford brought up many good points of concern raised by public comment.

All of this discussion led to the two 4-0 votes for the resolutions regarding environmental impacts, variances and use permits.  This meeting will soon be followed by the city council voting on some action items based on recommendations and resolutions.