April 25– Apr. 25–A 140-room, five-story AC Marriott hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue and B Street in downtown San Rafael won approval from the Planning Commission this week.

With overwhelming support from the business community, the commission signed off on the project at 1201 Fifth Ave. with a 5-0-2 vote, despite neighbors' concerns about height, traffic and parking. Commissioners Sarah Loughlin and Barrett Schaefer were absent.

"I strongly support the project," said Jeff Schoppert, chairman of the commission, adding that the overall benefit to businesses and residents "vastly outweighs the smaller detriment to some private property owners."

"I think it's the right place, the right time, the right use and it will add to the vitality downtown," he said.

The project, proposed by Tom Monahan and Jonathan Parker of Monahan Parker Inc., a San Rafael firm, calls for the demolition of a 12,000-square-foot bank building on the 28,719-square-foot lot.

It would include 76 parking spaces, a lobby bar and restaurant, event space, a fitness center and a rooftop garden and bar with views of Mount Tamalpais. Although the height limit for the site is 42 feet, the city allows a 12-foot height bonus for hotels. The hotel will be 54 feet tall.

The decision Tuesday came after a three-hour hearing in which about 40 speakers made arguments for and against the project.

"I'm not opposed to a hotel in downtown San Rafael," said resident Susan Adler, "just not this hotel."

Adler said, "I want a smaller, more thoughtfully designed hotel that respects the surrounding existing architecture and does not take away our public views (of Mount Tamalpais)."

Resident Edwina Whitbeck said she was "concerned and disappointed" that the project would be a Marriott hotel, saying the brand makes "cookie-cutter" buildings and this one is no different, in her opinion.

Business leaders, who were in the majority, said they are excited to welcome AC Marriott, noting that a downtown hotel is long overdue.

Mark Fishkin, executive director of the California Film Institute, the nonprofit that operates the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, said he's been advocating for a downtown hotel since the Rafael theater renovation got going more than 20 years ago.

Joanne Webster, executive director of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, said business owners strongly support the "Alive After Five" campaign that promotes downtown activity.

"We're trying to create liveliness, we're trying to create energy," she said.

She said, "We don't want the streets to fold up after 10 o'clock at night," and that the hotel would be "welcomed and embraced by the local merchants."

The project required the approval of a use permit and environmental and design review. Conditions of approval include a requirement that the developer install solar panels prior to occupancy. The commissioners are also calling for a review of the rooftop bar after 180 days of operation to ensure compliance with the city's noise ordinance.