With some members harshly criticizing the 45-condominium development planned for the Elks Lodge property, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission split 3-3 over its layout Wednesday night.
"It's a really horrible situation," Chairwoman Karen Holman said, calling the lack of coordination of the project with the new D.R. Horton housing project to the north "an injustice."
Commissioner Samir Tuma was absent, leading to the 3-3 vote, with commissioners Lee Lippert, Paula Sandas and Vice Chair Dan Garber voting in favor of the project.
Palo Alto-based SummerHill Homes proposes constructing two- and three-story condominiums, the majority detached, on the 4-acre property off El Camino Real south of Charleston Road. It would include a half-acre public park accessible off Deodar Street, and a new public road between the former Rickey's Hyatt property and the Elks Lodge.
Commissioners were nearly unified in their dislike of SummerHill Homes 20- to 22-foot-wide streets, roadways too narrow to allow curbside parking. And although several commissioners said they sympathize with Charleston Meadows neighbors who attended to oppose a potential path connecting the project with Wilkie Way, the commissioners were resolute in the need for increased connectivity between neighborhoods.
"Palo Alto is a fabric, it's not a patchwork quilt," Commissioner Lee Lippert said. "Access through this site is very limited as such it becomes an enclave unto itself, in some ways a gated community."
Commissioner Arthur Keller said he doesn't like the tightly packed, detached condominiums that have become the housing-type of choice for Palo Alto developers. He said he was worried the project was just for families who wanted their children to attend Gunn High School.
New Commissioner Susan Fineberg also said she found the project disagreeable.
"We're building a community that we're saying they are second-class citizens. They don't deserve the standard roadways, they don't deserve the amenities that come with the way other neighborhoods are built," she said.
The project originally lacked a bicycle or pedestrian connection to Wilkie Way
The project's connection to Wilkie has remained a divisive issue. Charleston Meadows neighbors successfully blocked a connection through the 170-unit Arbor Real project and opposed a plan to allow for a pathway further south, through the a planned row of houses lining Wilkie.
The SummerHill Homes project doesn't border Wilkie.
But on Jan. 22, the City Council asked planners to explore creating a path from Wilkie Way to El Camino Real via a strip of land owned by Dinah's Garden Hotel and SummerHill.
On Feb. 28, SummerHill Senior Vice President Elaine Breeze submitted a letter to the city offering to reconfigure several buildings to allow for access at the southeast corner of the property closest to Wilkie Way and to allow public access to all of the project's private roads and sidewalks.
"This has been an interesting process," Breeze said Wednesday. "We are open to having the connections or not. Either way is fine."
Several Charleston Meadows expressed vehement opposition to the path, which they believe will allow new residents to park their cars along Wilkie Way.
"You cannot imagine the level of overflow traffic and parking we have experienced over the years," neighborhood association President Carlin Otto said. "We will not stand for this to happen again."
Whitclem Drive resident Deborah Ju placed the blame for the situation on the city.
"By design these units are intended to shift overflow parking into our neighborhood. I think that is shameful and should not be allowed," she said.
The project includes garages and several guest parking areas.
Two other neighbors argued in favor of the pathway, which is dependent on the city acquiring land from Dinah's.
"Walkway systems are really a community need," Jean Olmstead said.
The split vote means the project will go before the City Council March 24 with no recommendation from the commission, although staff will recommend approving it, according to Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin and Assistant Planning and Transportation Director Curtis Williams.