Occidental Hotel Historic Building
The historic Giannini house located on Purissima Street in Downtown Half Moon Bay on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Adam Pardee / Review

The old house at 415 Purissima St. in Half Moon Bay is a shell of its former self. It appears to be sitting on an empty lot, but in its heyday, the space was occupied by the Occidental Hotel, the endpoint of an hours-long stagecoach journey connecting San Mateo and the Coastside.

It is this history that a new two-story building planned for the site at Purissima and Mill streets hopes to conjure. And by drawing inspiration from Half Moon Bay history, the builder, Professional

Peninsula Properties, was able to win approval from the Planning Commission despite falling short of the city’s requirements for parking.

Brian McNamara, general manager at Professional Peninsula Properties, said the look and feel of the building came easily enough, but parking was a challenge.

“That’s the singular greatest difficulty,” McNamara said.

The project received a parking exception, which drew a mixed reception by planning commissioners. Some commissioners, including Commissioner Sara Polgar, commended McNamara’s team’s effort to preserve the historic home and to design a history-inspired building.

“It’s a challenge to work with maintaining that historic residence and keeping the look and feel appropriate for the area around it. And I think they accomplished it,” Polgar said. “I feel like it had some pretty extenuating circumstances.”

Planning Commission Chair Jim Benjamin was more critical of the rate at which the commission is granting parking exceptions.

“It always seems like we’re having to struggle with this.” Benjamin said. “If we send them out this often it makes we wonder why we have the parking exception. If this is the norm, we should be asking if the norm is what we want.”

Professional Peninsula Properties oversaw construction of a similar project at 719 Main St., and so McNamara was familiar with the progression of feedback: positive response to the history-inspired design and its promise to add housing in downtown, but eventual resistance to parking workarounds.

At the Main Street property, McNamara negotiated to fulfill the city’s parking requirements by leasing space at a neighboring property that his company manages. The company sought a similar solution for the 415 Purissima St. project.

The plan for the 415 Purissima St. property includes five on-site parking spaces and five off-site spaces through a parking agreement with the Giorghetti Building at 655 Miramontes St., which the company manages. The 10 total spaces fall short of the 11 spaces required after applying the city’s 20 percent reduction policy for mixed-used reduction and waiver.

McNamara admits he holds different ideas for parking than city officials. He said he’s seen solutions in other cities where parking spaces can be leased from a city-owned lot some blocks away from the building. This approach eases the pressure on the builder as well as helps retain a downtown character.

Dating back to the 1980s, McNamara said he has seen the planning process evolve in Half Moon Bay. He recalls a time when the City Council didn’t want any new developments downtown. In recent years, he’s seen greater interest in building.

“If you work with the city and are not trying to overbuild,” he said, “if you’re reasonable and trying to do something that sensible, it’s available to do.”

Sensible in Half Moon Bay may mean something that appears straight out of the stagecoach days but accommodates an era when cars rule.

McNamara expects construction to begin at the start of the new year and for it to be completed in 12 months.

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