SummerHill Homes would like to build 46 homes on 3.9 acres of former Palo Alto Elks property on El Camino Real.
But drawings of the "Disneylandish" detached townhouses proposed for the south Palo Alto site turned off several members of the Architectural Review Board when they conducted a preliminary review of SummerHill's plans last Thursday.
"I can't support the premise of this project," board Chair David Solnick said. "There is a fundamental flaw with the site plan."
Multi-family zoning on the site allows for 23.1 units per acre, or 90 housing units. SummerHill hopes to build half the allowable homes, or 11.6 units per acre.
When board member Judith Wasserman questioned the developer, SummerHill Senior Vice President Elaine Breeze said the rationale for low density was to create a "high quality environment for the residents."
Solnick and Wasserman objected to the low density as being counterproductive to the city's goal of reducing traffic by creating denser housing.
Solnick also critiqued the housing site's grid layout when the grid would not connect to any streets outside the 3.9-acre development.
"It's creating a suburban enclave on El Camino and that does not compute in any way, shape or form," he said.
Further, board member Heather Trossman referred to the proposed architecture, which Breeze called a "sophisticated, traditional aesthetic," as "Disneylandish" in its attempt to build several different styles of houses that mimic a real, diverse neighborhood.
"It seems forced to me," Trossman said.
But Solnick and Trossman's were not unanimously held.
"We were pretty divided on this. It's a difficult site," said board member Grace Lee, who, along with board member Clare Malone-Prichard, saw no problems with the grid layout or the low housing density.
Lee sympathized with SummerHill's selection of a grid layout because of the site's size.
"When you lay out these projects, it's a balancing act," she said -- referring to the competing interests of providing "as much comfort" to each housing unit and ensuring that the whole development is financially viable.
However, Lee wants SummerHill to connect a proposed half-acre park on the site with a main walkway to the houses and to provide adequate backyard space to each house.
SummerHill's property will be almost completely surrounded by new construction: a new Elks' lodge on El Camino Real, five new homes on Wilkie Way, and D.R. Horton's 185-unit housing development, which is currently under construction on the former Rickey's Hyatt site.
The Elks are keeping 3 acres out of the total 8.2-acre property and selling off the rest for housing to finance the construction of a new lodge on El Camino.
Solnick raised concerns about the project in light of a torrent of new housing being built in the area without coordination of pedestrian and bike paths and community benefits among the various projects.
"There hasn't been any master planning, and we're seeing the effect of that. Nobody's talking to each other," he said.
"The devil is not in the details. The devil is in the big picture," he continued.
No members of the public were present to speak about the project.
After the preliminary hearing, Breeze said SummerHill would review the board's feedback.
"It was a lot of information," she said.
SummerHill hopes to start construction on the homes in 2008, and an application for the lodge from developer John Arrillaga should come to the city in the next few months, Breeze said.
Wasserman praised SummerHill's work in developing the entire South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) area and hoped the developer would produce similar work in south Palo Alto.
"They have to do the same job here. We have to hold their feet to a fire," she said.