By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The developer of a proposed luxury hotel that has sparked controversy in Sonoma released revised plans Thursday that reflect a smaller footprint and a redesign of the original French theme.
Key changes to the project formerly known as Chateau Sonoma Hotel & Spa include shrinking the total project by 7,000 square feet, removing the Lynch building from the project and including one restaurant instead of two.
The revised project does not yet have a new name.
“I am proud of our efforts to engage the community and confident this project will be a good fit for Sonoma,” Darius Anderson, founder and CEO of Kenwood Investments, said in a press release Thursday.
Anderson did not return a message seeking comment.
Bill Hooper, president of Anderson’s development firm, Kenwood Investments, said Thursday that the number of hotel rooms being proposed remains unchanged at 59.
Hooper said that fewer rooms than that would make it “very difficult to make that investment work.”
A group calling itself Preserving Sonoma is seeking changes to the city’s general plan that would cap any new hotel or expansion of an existing one to 25 rooms unless the city’s hotel occupancy rate over the previous calendar year exceeded 80 percent. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.
The group contends that the measure is necessary to protect the city’s quality of life from what its members consider to be major hotel development.
Opponents say the measure would stymie economic growth and result in a de facto ban on most hotels by setting an impossibly high occupancy standard.
Larry Barnett, a former city mayor and spokesman for initiative proponents, said Thursday the group is not focused on the specific design of Anderson’s proposed hotel.
“Instead, we’re concerned about the issue we have identified, which has to do with scale primarily, and the effect on the character of the town in general,” he said.
The group has started circulating petitions in support of the initiative. It needs signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to qualify the measure for a general election, and 15 percent for a special election. The latter could be scheduled earlier but would cost the city an estimated $30,000.
The council also would have the option of adopting the ordinance.
Anderson is a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
His original plans envisioned a three-story, 59-room hotel with two restaurants, a health club and spa, event center and 2,800 square feet of retail space.
The new design calls for one restaurant with seating for 108 instead of 154. The proposed event center would seat 128 people, 52 fewer than in the original plans.
The project’s architectural design also has been altered to resemble other buildings on the plaza, Hooper said.
Architect Michael Ross described the new design in Thursday’s press release as “gabled thick walled buildings parallel to the street, exterior timber arcades and tile sheltering roofs.”
Anderson said that 95 percent of the proposed hotel would not be visible from the city’s plaza.
The Index-Tribune building, an adjacent warehouse and an antique store, all owned by Anderson, would be razed to make way for the hotel complex.
But the new design spares the Lynch building, which is now occupied by Sonoma Bank, offices and apartments.
Hooper said community opposition prompted the design team to drop plans to convert seven apartments on the third floor of the Lynch building into hotel rooms. He said those rooms are instead proposed to be built in the main structure.
In a previous interview, Anderson said the new design will celebrate writer Jack London. He said he hopes to open a bar at the site called “First Edition,” and include some of the artifacts he has collected that are related to the famous author’s life and works.
City officials said the previous design met the requirements of the city general plan.
However, Hooper said Thursday the plans will be reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act and include a full environmental impact report, including the project’s impact on traffic.
Hooper said the new plans will be submitted to the city within the next two weeks. He said Anderson also is planning to host another community meeting to discuss the project.