by Gennady Sheyner

June 3, 2024

A new proposal from SummerHill Homes would replace Country Inn Motel at 4345 El Camino Real and a commercial building with 29 townhomes. Courtesy SDG Architects/city of Palo Alto

For the second time in two years, a local developer is proposing to demolish the Country Inn Motel in south Palo Alto to construct a residential community with private streets on El Camino Real, near the city’s borders with Mountain View and Los Altos.

According to plans that SummerHill Homes submitted last month, the development at 4345 El Camino Real would consist of 29 three-story townhomes in five buildings, two on the north side of Cesano Court and three on the south side of Cesano. The new community would replace the motel and a commercial building that includes Peninsula Piano Brokers, Massage Envy and Classic Kitchen & Bath.

The development will consist of three- and four-bedroom dwellings, with four units offered at below-market-rate level for residents with “moderate” incomes, according to the plans. The designation refers to households that make between 80% and 120% of the county’s area median income.

In pitching the project, SummerHill is touting the site’s proximity to the San Antonio Caltrain station and easy access to San Antonio Center in Mountain View.

“With attractive landscaping, outdoor amenities, and contemporary architecture, SummerHill expects the project to be an excellent homeownership opportunity for people living or working in Palo Alto,” John Hickey, vice president for development at SummerHill, wrote to the city as part of the application.

The proposal from SummerHill represents the second attempt by a property owner to convert the commercially zoned site to residential use. In 2022, Toll Brothers pitched a plan to build 55 condominiums, six townhomes and six accessory dwelling units through the city’s “planned home zoning” process, which gives council members ample leeway to demand revisions or deny applications.

The Toll Brothers project, which envisioned a 60-foot-tall building with condominiums, did not advance. During a September 2022 public hearing, members of the City Council criticized various aspects of the proposal, including the developer’s plans to remove several protected trees and to demolish a retail building.

A proposed townhouse development would replace Country Inn Motel in Palo Alto, shown here in 2022. Embarcadero file photo by Aliana Mediratta.

The SummerHill plan is somewhat less ambitious. The newly submitted plans show that the proposed townhome buildings will vary in height but would range between 40 feet and 48 feet, well within the city’s 50-foot height limit. Each dwelling will have about 1,763 square feet of living space, according to the application.

The townhome development will also include ground-floor patios, balconies, roof decks and a total of 60 off-street parking spaces, according to the application. It will also include community open spaces with tables, seating areas and an electric grill with counters for prep space, according to the application.

SummerHill is also requesting a streamlined review process by invoking Senate Bill 330, which limits the number of public hearings on the project and prevents the city from adopting new zoning rules or design standards for a property after an application has been filed.

Unlike the prior plan, the current one is not seeking a zone change. SummerHill is, however, seeking waivers from several development standards, including code provisions that require retail preservation and prohibit tree removal. The developer is also looking for loosening of rules that govern side and rear setbacks and that limit construction of roof decks.

According to the application, SummerHill is currently under contract to purchase the project site and one of its goals is to “ensure that the project is financially feasible,” Hickey wrote. He argued in his letter that retaining retail on the site would conflict with that goal because retail space at the site “would not be able to generate revenue sufficient to cover the cost of land and construction.”

“Therefore, dedicated retail space would incur a loss for the project,” Hickey wrote. “Furthermore, dedicated retail, office, or other commercial space would displace proposed residential uses, which would reduce the project’s contribution towards meeting the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation.”


Gennady Sheyner covers local and regional politics, housing,  and their sister publications. He has won awards for his coverage.

Join the Conversation


  1. BobH says:

June 3, 2024 9:22 am at 9:22 am

I hope the city will require the developer to provide EV chargers (or the capability to install) for all of the 60 off-street parking spaces. That is important if the city to reach it’s green goals.

  1. Rebecca Eisenberg says:

June 3, 2024 1:13 pm at 1:13 pm

This project sounds GREAT! We need townhomes and other 3-bedroom residences that will accommodate families larger than 1 or 2 individuals!

Palo Alto Online really needs to check its biased reporting, however. The author calls this project “less ambitious,” but in many ways it is “more ambitious.” Its units are larger in size, with more bedrooms and outdoor space. It was planned with a greater deal of consideration to our community’s needs and neighborhood amenities. Creating a cul-de-sac community off El Camino rather than a big box of tiny apartments directly on El Camino requires more attention to detail and planning. Working to keep the height within existing restrictions also must have taken some time. (And no, I have zero connection to the developer.)

Mountain View have several similar developments just south of San Antonio. Anyone who bikes, walks, or drives through those neighborhoods will enjoy a neighborhood feel with few cars and homes ranging from apartments/condos to townhouses to “normal” sized SFH (3 or 4 BRs, 1700-2400 sq ft). These homes are selling quickly because they were designed with an eye towards neighborhood and community development. It is time that Palo Alto make room for similar developments.

The PA Planning Commission and especially the Architectural Review Board have been too hands-on and micro-managing of these types of projects that will serve as entry-level and moderately-priced homes. I hope that they keep their eyes on the goal of providing moderate-height, medium-sized, 3BR homes that can accommodate folks who work here, especially teachers and firefighters and other public servants. Providing available affordable normal-sized homes for people who work here will directly reduce traffic and emissions by eliminating commutes, while also making it easier for PAUSD, the City, health care providers, and other local businesses to hire and retain the best workers. It’s a win-win.

  1. Reid says:

June 3, 2024 1:18 pm at 1:18 pm

Homes for Everyone? Yes!

I question the framing in the byline. What’s important here is that a developer has a proposal to convert a hotel into long term housing, not that they plan to demolish the unremarkable Country Inn Motel building.

  1. Bystander says:

June 3, 2024 3:26 pm at 3:26 pm

What is troublesome about this is the fact that it is going to displace a motel and other businesses useful to present residents and visitors to town. A motel is useful for out of town guests to use for overnight accommodation when there is not enough space for their hosts to provide sleeping arrangements as well as family visits for Stanford students. Not everyone coming to Palo Alto has business budgets for the larger hotels.

As for the other businesses, what will happen to them?

We need to keep our useful businesses to make life here bearable. We are not a bedroom community that needs nothing but housing and restaurants.

  1. BP Parent says:

June 3, 2024 4:08 pm at 4:08 pm

“Providing available affordable normal-sized homes for people who work here will directly reduce traffic and emissions by eliminating commutes, while also making it easier for PAUSD, the City, health care providers, and other local businesses to hire and retain the best workers.”
How can you legally sell these units to only Palo Alto/PAUSD employees?? The price will be set so high that only outsiders will be able to afford them. Even the 4 “market rate” units are available for ANYONE in Santa Clara County to apply for them. At the end of the day, this housing construction WILL NOT BENEFIT any Palo Alto/PAUSD employee. So stop trying to sell it that way to get support. Just admit more housing will be built for existing millionaires to buy them.

  1. Mary Ruth Leen says:

June 3, 2024 7:10 pm at 7:10 pm

What train station at San Antonio?! Anybody read this?

  1. Scott says:

June 3, 2024 7:12 pm at 7:12 pm

Townhomes right on the ECR bus lines and mere hundreds of feet from San Antonio Caltrain on ECR is a wasted opportunity for much higher-density transit-oriented development.

The fact that this isn’t an apartment project during a housing crisis is an abject policy failure. There is a five story apartment complex right next door. This project should have been at least six.


  1. Chris says:

June 3, 2024 7:29 pm at 7:29 pm

Mary Ruth, the Caltrain station at San Antonio was built 25 years ago. It replaced the Castro station at Rengstorff. Check it out if you were serious in asking about it.

  1. Adam says:

June 3, 2024 9:59 pm at 9:59 pm

Homes for Everyone? Yes!

I wish the 2022 proposal for apartment homes had moved forward. Then we’d have 67 new homes on this parcel and not just the recently proposed 29 — more than twice as many. Our city needs to rise to the scale of our housing crisis.