Two designs confuse river hotel hearing

No one seemed really sure what they were talking about last week at a Sonoma County Design Review Committee hearing to get public feedback on the new resort hotel proposed in Guernewood Park.

Two different hotel designs, one proposed by hotelier Kirk Lok and a second design offered by Noble House Hotels & Resorts, are now on the drawing board for the riverside parcel west of downtown Guerneville.

The Noble House plan proposes a glass-walled lodge with a swimming pool and a vegetable garden complete with chickens and fruit trees that would supply the hotel’s promised Michelin-starred restaurant.

Kirk Lok’s plan calls for a more rustic-looking “contemporary Craftsman” style resort with valet parking and an ADA compliant public access trail, but no mention of a swimming pool, free-range chickens or a Michelin star.

When asked where the more recent Noble House hotel plans came from, Jean Kopolchok, Lok’s planning consultant, said, “I don’t know.”

If the Noble House plan wasn’t being reviewed at the county permit department, why was it being promoted on the Noble House website as the new “Lodge on the Russian River”?

“I don’t know,” said Kopolchok.

A Noble House spokesman for the hotel project, Sean Mullen, was away for Veterans Day weekend and unavailable for comment.

Noble House is the resort company negotiating to take over the hotel project from Lok, but the plan on the company’s website “is not part of the application” presented to the county planning committee last week, said Brian Millar, the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department’s contract planner in charge of reviewing the Guerneville hotel application.

Kirk Lok’s planning consultant also cautioned that the Noble House website hotel plan “is not the plan now before you,” said Jean Kopolchok in her opening remarks to the county design panel last week.

Both plans describe more or less the same footprint, a four-story hotel with 100 riverside rooms and 20 bungalows overlooking Hulbert Creek that borders the 10-acre resort property’s eastern edge. The resort includes a restaurant and bar, parking for 165 cars and public access with rest rooms. Extensive new landscaping, riparian forest restoration and Highway 116 traffic improvements would be required in either plan.

About three dozen people attended last week’s meeting, mostly neighbors of the project, who generally approved of the development but had questions about increased Highway 116 traffic congestion, the location of public access to the beach and poten­­tial noise from the hotel operations.

“My concern is worker housing,” said Jeniffer Wertz, a founder of the Guerneville Community Alliance and the Lower River Community Workforce Housing program, which provides cash support for local hospitality industry workers in jeopardy of becoming homeless.

With the new hotel expected to employ more than three dozen people during peak season, “Where are they going to live?” asked Wertz.

The proposed project’s size at more than 80,000 sq. ft. means the project developer will have to contribute approximately $220,000 in county workforce housing fees, according to the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD).

Another problem developers may need to address is water supply. The Sweetwater Springs Water District, which serves the Guernewood Park area, estimates the hotel and restaurant project will require an expansion of the Sweetwater District’s water storage capacity by approximately 300,000 to 400,000 gallons.

“That will mean adding a storage tank somewhere in the Guerneville system,” said Sweetwater Springs Water District General Manager Steve Mack in a written report on the project.

No matter which plan gets adopted, the general design questions raised last week will still apply.

Regarding the confusion over the two sets of design plans, “I think you’re in a position where you need to do a little community outreach,” said design committee member Jim Henderson, an architect.

Over all, “I think it’s a nice project,” said committee member Don McNair, a landscape architect.

“You may have to lose a few units to make it all fit,” said Derik Michaelson, the project review planner for PRMD. “I do believe it’s a good project that will be good for Guerneville if it’s done right.”