The City Council voted Monday to uphold development entitlements for the Livermore Valley Wine Country Inn, a 30-room boutique hotel and restaurant planned for the southwest corner of Hansen and Arroyo Road. But the approval is subject to additional conditions aimed at reducing the commercial project’s impact on nearby residential neighborhoods.
The added conditions are: The elimination of 19 unpaved overflow parking spaces that would have required removing two rows of grapevines from a buffer area between the project and Arroyo Road; a requirement that two trees be planted on site for every tree removed for the project and; a requirement that any future expansion of the restaurant beyond 77 seats be subject to review and approval by the Planning Commission.
The vote followed an appeal from nearby residents who sought to overturn the Planning Commission approval of a site plan and conditional use permit for the project which was granted in November. In its appeal, a group of residents, Friends of South Livermore, argued that the hotel and restaurant plan was in conflict with the city’s General Plan, the South Livermore Specific Plan and the Livermore Municipal Code. It sought additional environmental analysis of the project’s impacts on traffic, noise and aesthetics.
More than 30 people spoke in support and opposition of the hotel plan, which stretched late into the night. Many more attended, filling every seat and spilling into the aisles.
Proponents, including representatives from the nonprofit Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, lauded the hotel as a critically needed amenity to support the Livermore Valley Wine Country as a tourist destination.
Neighborhood opponents raised safety concerns about cut-through traffic speeding along Hansen Road, where the hotel entrance will be located. They asked for the entrance to be relocated to Arroyo Road, which was designed to accommodate more traffic. Hansen Road, a winding residential street, was widened at Arroyo Road in anticipation of a future hotel. Placing the entrance there was something the city required of the hotel developer.
Lance Crannell, a principal architect with SDG Architects, Inc., of Brentwood, spoke on behalf of the project applicant, LWCI, LLC, a business formed by Livermore resident Michelle Boss. Crannell said proponents engaged the city’s planning staff early in the process and worked closely with the city to make certain “all toes were pointing in the same direction.” No zoning amendments or variances were requested as part of the project, he said.
A hotel to support viticulture and tourism for the South Livermore Valley Wine Country has long been envisioned for the three-acre site. An Environmental Impact Report adopted by the city as part of the 1997 Livermore Valley Specific Plan included environmental analysis of a hotel with up to 30 rooms and a 100-seat restaurant on the same site where the current hotel and restaurant project is planned.
The residents’ appeal triggered a rare instance in which the City Council, Livermore’s legislative body, acting in a quasi-judicial role, sat in judgment of a Planning Commission land use decision. In reviewing the appeal, the Council was limited to rendering judgment based on applying facts from the specific project application to the city’s land use rules.
After listening to hours of testimony, City Councilman Bob Woerner asked City Manager Marc Roberts to clarify the Council’s limited role in the hearing.
“I want to make sure I understand. We have, as a Council, no latitude in this proceeding to move the entrance?” he asked. “That is correct,” Roberts said. “That would be a legislative act. This is not a legislative act before you.”
Based on Woerner’s suggestion, the Council deliberated on each point raised in the appeal and on a more recent supplemental letter from Mark Wolfe, a San Francisco-based land use attorney who filed the appeal on behalf of the Friends of South Livermore group. At the conclusion of the deliberations, Woerner proposed the Council deny the appeal, but include conditions based on concerns raised by nearby residents. The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Trish Munro and unanimously approved by the Council.