• Otter Views: Small town, big changes

    by Tom Stevens

    It was a foggy Sunday morning on Grand Avenue. A neighbor’s garage sale offered a shoe shine kit for a buck, so I took it home, sat on the front porch and started working the waxy brown polish into my loafers.

    During pauses, my gaze turned uphill to the old Holman Building, which looms over this part of town like a pink colossus. Shrouded in mist and orbited by seagulls, it looked like a Navy hospital ship back from the Gulf wars.

    Despite its imposing bulk, the building has grown on me since I’ve lived in its figurative shadow. As the neighborhood’s principal rookery, Holman’s rooftop launches skyward the great spiraling, wheeling, clattering storm of sea gulls that reminds me at all times where I am.

    The building is also lofty enough to catch the first and last light of clear days. While lesser buildings recline in darkness, the Holman bathes in the soft rose hues of morning or evening like Mount Shasta smoldering in the alpenglow.

    So yes, the Holman Building has grown on me, and soon it may grow on the town as well. Plans recently publicized envision a 400-room hotel abutting the present Holman’s and running downhill to Central, where it would soar seven stories above the street.

    That’s a big hotel.

    If built as presently planned, it would have major impacts on the town and significant consequences for its future.

    Proponents say: “Go for it. How often does someone come along who can chunk $25 million into the local economy for a classy new hotel? And if not now, when?”

    Those in favor say the hotel would provide construction and staff jobs that could help kick-start a moribund economy. It could also gentrify the neighborhood, seed empty storefronts with new businesses, and lodge visitors who otherwise might go elsewhere. Tax revenues from the hotel could help Pacific Grove pay its bills, a growing concern for California municipalities.

    Opponents basically say “whoa, not so fast.”

    They contend the hotel originally proposed in the 1990s was a four-story “boutique” project that would occupy a retrofitted Holman Building, not a 400-room abutment. They say the new project’s block-long, block-wide footprint and seven-story profile are outsized for the surroundings. They also raise parking, traffic and view corridor issues.

    It shapes up as a lively and crucial civic debate. But there’s more on the docket.

    In addition to the hotel proposal, town policymakers also must weigh zoning changes that would permit alcohol service until midnight at liquor licensees other than restaurants.

    As with the hotel, the prospect of wine bars, brew pubs, tasting rooms and taverns springing up along Lighthouse and Forest Avenues has both supporters and opponents, for many of the same reasons. Whatever one’s opinion, the new rules, if enacted, would alter the town’s ambience and atmosphere.

    If the policymakers have their way, the zoning changes sought for the hotel and for stand-alone liquor purveyors would end up as ballot issues in November.

    Ostensibly, that would give voters a say in determining the town’s economic and cultural future. Those who want a livelier, more prosperous, higher-octane Pacific Grove could vote for the zoning changes. Those who prefer a quieter, lower profile, lower wattage PG could vote against. May the more popular plan win.

    But even that seemingly democratic tack is controversial. Many who are unfamiliar with or undecided about the zoning proposals want more time and more specifics. They say November is too soon, and they may have a point.

    Proposals this far-reaching warrant a long, thorough and careful screening.

    It’s a small town. These are big changes.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 17, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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