Ross Jones likes to improve the world around him. The Petaluma architect collects classic cars, especially Alfa Romeos, but only ones that he can customize.
The owner of Jones Architecture and Development is now hoping to leave his mark on Petaluma in the form of a downtown boutique hotel that would showcase the area's agrarian roots and the more recent "slow food" healthy eating movement.
"We want this project to express Petaluma," Jones said. "We want to speak to the past, present and future of Petaluma."
The plans for the four-story, 50-room hotel at Petaluma Boulevard and B Street, a stone's throw from the Theater District, previously drew attention when Jones proposed placing a demonstration farm on the roof, complete with live animals. Jones has since scaled back that idea, but he still envisions a rooftop edible garden and an area to display farm animals.
"It just became too difficult to manage that part of the plan properly with animals on the roof fulltime," Jones said. "It would be part of a weekend program. We would bring animals in as part of an educational program."
Jones said his family has owned the now vacant lot since 1963, when there was a Chevron station on the property. Plans to build a hotel on the piece of prime downtown real estate have been in the works since 2005, he said.
Plans for the hotel are moving forward at a time when the owners of Hotel Petaluma in downtown are turning the single room occupancy building into a traditional hotel. Adding hotel rooms downtown could spur business for local merchants if done right, according to Ingrid Alverde, the city's Economic Development Director.
"It could bring tourists downtown," she said. "Anytime you add something new to the mix, you have to look at it from all angles."
Alverde said that the city has not yet had a chance to review the proposed project. Jones said he will submit the plans to the city Planning Department on May 7.
Getting a greenlight could be challenging: The design is five feet taller and some 6,000 square feet larger than the code allows, and parking will be an issue. If all goes well, Jones would like to break ground in 2014 and open a year later.
Former Councilmember and Planning Commissioner Matt Maguire, one of about 12 who attended a meeting on March 27 to learn more about the project, said he liked it, but had some critiques about the building's design.
"When I have to drive by it every day, the building's aesthetics are important to me," he said. "I would like to see more curves in the design elements."
The modern design uses earth tones and sustainable materials such as recycled glass tiles, scrap metal mosaic doors and a reclaimed wood bar. Solar panels on the roof provide shade for the bar and lounge area with sweeping views of the Petaluma River and surrounding hills.
The working name for the hotel, To:, is meant to conjure the anticipation of traveling to a destination, or the satisfaction of giving and receiving a gift, Jones said.
After listening to a presentation about the proposed hotel on March 27, Chris Lawrence, a Petaluma builder, said the design is striking, especially for the historic downtown district.