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[whitespace] Toll House Hotel Optimistic About Redesigned Plans for Expansion

Los Gatos--The Toll House Hotel is back again with a scaled-back expansion plan the owners are confident will be received more warmly by neighbors than some earlier iterations. The hotel goes back to the Planning Commission Dec. 9.

After planning commissioners sent him back for a redesign, owner Wayne Levenfeld's new plan is to have a smaller building in the rear of the hotel with about half as many rooms. Those rooms that would have been in back are now up front, along S. Santa Cruz Avenue.

In all, Levenfeld wants a total of 25 new rooms, of which eight would be in the rear building, called the west wing. The previous application, which the Planning Commission rejected in June, was for 27 rooms, with 16 in the rear structure. The hotel currently has 97 rooms.

Most of the new rooms in the existing building would become a third floor addition above the existing two levels in the front. On one side of the hotel, a third story already exists, and the remodel would create a counterpart on the other half of the building.

To shuffle rooms up to the front without making a significant cut in the total number, Levenfeld worked with architect Dick Stowers to find places where additional rooms could be built. They found space for three rooms on the second floor--two on the interior courtyard and one over the new lobby.

"We figured out a way to achieve the number of units we need but further reduce the number of units in the back," Levenfeld said.

Levenfeld also moved the west wing away from neighbors and closer to the main building, which will connect with a walkway over the main entrance area in the rear. In its new location, the west wing doesn't block any neighbors' view of the hillside.

The rooms in the west wing would be two-room suites, which Levenfeld called "unusually large." The bigger rooms are integral to the expansion, he said, because the hotel is trying to attract more upscale customers. Most guests at the hotel are high-tech employees on business trips and families on vacation.

"We want nice suites; if a major corporate executive comes to town, that's what he wants," Levenfeld explained. "It's the same with wedding parties; the families want large rooms."

After meetings with Levenfeld, two of the three most vocal opponents, Brian Hinman and John and Jean Richardson, who live on Broadway directly behind the hotel, sent a letter to the town retracting their opposition to the plans.

In the Oct. 4 letter, the neighbors said they would drop their opposition because the Toll House offered to meet their conditions regarding future expansions, architecture, trash pickup, lighting and landscape.

A third opponent, Peter Carter, says he can live with the proposal because Levenfeld went out of his way to address the neighbor's concerns, but says that the flap over the expansion is indicative of a much larger issue: overdevelopment in the downtown area.

Levenfeld is sticking with to his plans to make improvements to S. Santa Cruz Avenue, including adding parking spaces and planter boxes like those that line N. Santa Cruz Avenue. By narrowing the wide stretch of the street that connects downtown with the freeway, the design is also intended to slow the flow of traffic through the area.

Stowers also modified his plans to make architectural enhancements to the front of the building to give it a more cohesive architectural style. In his letter of justification, he said the new design was going after a more "late-Victorian" style that will relate more closely with the other turn-of-the-century architecture around town.

"We feel really good about the project now, and we think it's very attractive," said Levenfeld, who has been trying to get the expansion approved for almost two years.

The Planning Commission hearing is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers.
Jeff Kearns

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