The status of a Marriott hotel planned near where two Fountaingrove lodges burned in the 2017 fires remained in limbo Tuesday night after the Santa Rosa City Council delayed a vote following a hearing with impassioned testimony by project opponents and supporters.
The proposed 114-room Residence Inn Hotel went before the council on appeal after it was blocked by a 3-3 Planning Commission vote in late November, marking the first time since the Tubbs fire that planning commissioners voted down a project in a burn zone.
In Tuesday’s hearing, council members weighed the safety risks of authorizing a new hotel in the area as well as objections raised by representatives and patients of the nearby St. Joseph Health Cancer Center, who are concerned that a new three-story hotel would block expansive westward views from a recovery ward.
Councilwomen Julie Combs and Victoria Fleming voiced the strongest concerns about the future peril posed by wildfire in the area, which has burned twice since 1964.
“I’d like to see you go above and beyond,” Fleming said to the hotel representatives, “because your building will burn down.”
The nearly 5-acre property on Round Barn Circle is owned by Santa Rosa-based Billa Management, led by Telecom Valley entrepreneur Ajaib Bhadare, who is pursuing the project with developer Tharaldson Hospitality.
They appealed the Planning Commission’s decision in mid-December but requested the matter be delayed prior to Tuesday’s hearing “to have more time to work out issues,” Clare Hartman, the deputy planning director, told the council. Because of the heavy turnout, Mayor Tom Schwedhelm allowed the public hearing to proceed, though he agreed to delay the vote.
Retired Sonoma County fire chief and paid consultant Vern Losh, speaking on behalf of the developer, argued that the project will meet or exceed all fire codes and will include an emergency preparedness plan that will be reviewed by the Santa Rosa Fire Department.
Losh also noted that fire detection and alert systems have been improved in the past two years, even as Californians brace for a “new normal” of catastrophic wildfires.
“Whatever disaster that we face in the future, I am confident, as a former active first responder, that we will be better prepared and equipped than we have been,” Losh said.
Some opponents of the project, such as Teri Shore with the Greenbelt Alliance, said the hotel should be subject to stricter fire standards than are currently in place, noting that guests at the hotel might not be familiar with the Round Barn area in north Santa Rosa.
“We urge the City Council to require the hotel to use next-generation fire-safe practices including construction, design, defensible space and evacuation plans beyond minimum fire codes to prevent loss of life,” Shore said.
Other opponents, including allies of St. Joseph Health, argued for a less visually imposing design to avoid impacting the scenery for cancer patients.
“For sure, I’m not going to stand before you to say that my survival to date has been a result of those views or those window lines,” said Eugene Berman, a cancer patient at St. Joseph and real estate broker. “But if one buys into the belief that state of mind is adjunctive therapy to cancer therapy, it seems that the Marriott might consider their commercial interests in this light and try to figure out a way to accomplish those interests with a lower-profile accommodation on their site.”
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.