Downtown Petaluma hotel to use eco-friendly materials

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As city officials finish reviewing the application for a boutique hotel sited in the heart of downtown Petaluma, residents were given a chance to publicly air their feelings about a project hoping to win over the community with its ambitious approach to energy conservation.

Developer Ross Jones last week presented the latest iteration of The Petaluman, a five-story, 65-room hotel proposed for a one-third-acre lot at the intersection of Petaluma Boulevard and B Street, at a Know Before You Grow forum at the Riverfront Cafe. The smart growth advocacy group hosts events throughout the year to showcase development concepts and connect pending projects with Petaluma residents.

Attendants at the meeting voiced a variety of trepidations over the exterior design, and called for further revisions to the scale and style so it would better synchronize with the surrounding area. Some of the back and forth critiques were boosted by supportive applause.

Others, however, were OK with its appearance, and celebrated the hotel’s potential to become a gathering space for visitors and residents alike.

Jones, a Petaluma architect whose family has owned part of the land since 1963, said he was open to actionable suggestions as the window for providing input steadily closes. Although, he held firm on the hotel’s size so it can be large enough to attract a quality operator and provide competitive wages to an estimated 24 full-time employees.

“I’m aware that (size) can be a concern and we’ve addressed it the best we can with the style of the building and the mass being more articulated than just a rectangular box,” Jones said. “I understand it’s disruptive. When Hotel Petaluma was built (on Kentucky Street), that must’ve been the same kind of feeling.”

The project seemed to find universal support in the room when it came to its vision for energy efficiency.

The Petaluman will be built with a special type of imported timber bamboo that is manufactured for construction by Windsor-based BamCore. The company utilizes a wall system that breaks from the more common approach of using studs and balloon framing – instead employing hollowed-out laminations of bamboo that can accommodate greater insulation to reduce noise and keep the building cooler.

Zack Zimmerman, BamCore’s director of businesses development, wowed the audience with a presentation on the renewable elements of the plant, and the sustainable materials that will be used, like an expensive structural glue that’s formaldehyde-free.

Bamboo is far more regenerative than timber wood, he said, reaching a mature height of more than 80 feet in a single year, and can be harvested annually as opposed to wood, which requires several decades.

The Petaluman would be one of two projects in the country using timber bamboo at this scale, Zimmerman said.

“Not only is it something that is super green, but when it’s in service, it actually continues to sequester carbon,” he said. “That again is because of the bamboo.”

Some attendants were still dissatisfied with the parking situation, which Jones conceded has been the toughest issue to resolve. A previous proposal included the construction of parking sheds with mechanical lifts on a nearby parcel, but was met with neighborhood opposition.

The 14,256-square-foot hotel will offer a valet service that operates from the entrances on B Street. Jones declined to disclose where exactly the 65 offsite parking spaces will be leased from, but assured they were within the quarter-mile range required by the city. One electric vehicle station will be located onsite.

Room rates for the one- and two-bedroom suites, which will average $285 per night, will likely be discounted for guests that don’t use the valet service, Jones said. Employees will use scooters to navigate to and from the parking areas.

The developer also said a community bike pump will be offered on the property, and plans to integrate Petaluma’s future bikeshare program into the hotel.

Visions for a farm-to-table restaurant connected to a local farm are also coming together, as is the atmosphere of the rooftop lounge, where the public can gather around fire pits and imbibe alcoholic beverages or healthier alternatives from a juice bar.

“You can come up here without having a hotel key, without having a guest or friend staying in the hotel,” Jones said. “It’s public space up on the rooftop.”

Before permitting, the project will be subject to public hearings with the city council and planning commission, who will review a series of amendments to the city code to accommodate different aspects of the project.

Petaluma engineer Dave Alden, who is steering the development through the public forum, said one amendment would edit a section pertaining to rooftop facilities to accommodate bathrooms and food prep areas connected to the lounge.

Other buildings with the same zoning would benefit from this amendment, he said, opening the door for other rooftop bars in Petaluma.

The other two new amendments would provide exemptions in the zoning code to allow for greater height limits and larger floor plans if there was a proven public benefit and neighborhood compatibility, Alden said.

The project site was the former home of a Chevron gas station, and an elongated cleanup process caused delays over the last two years. Jones expects the state to declare the site contaminant free next month.

As far as the remaining timeline, he anticipates the project will obtain planning approvals by the end of the year and can begin the permitting process in early 2020, establishing a construction timeline that would take about 14-16 months, Jones said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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