A tree-lined development featuring 35 units for low-income residents received the green light from the city Monday night.
But the City Council approved the "Tree House" project at 488 West Charleston Road with one caveat: the developer will have to supply an Eco Pass to every resident of the tiered, four-story building. The pass gives residents access to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses.
The condition was imposed after residents and council members expressed concerns about congestion and parking woes in the south Palo Alto neighborhood where the development is slated to go up. While the council praised the project for its creative design and its goal of providing housing to low-income residents, members said the Palo Alto Housing Corporation needs to do more to mitigate the development's potential traffic and parking impacts on the already congested neighborhood.
Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto proposed the Eco Pass idea and her colleagues agreed.
"I think the Eco Passes are essential elements for these types of projects in the future," Councilman Pat Burt said. "They mitigate the parking impact. It's the best thing we can do to both lessen impacts on neighbors and to make a better project."
The council also authorized a $2.8 million loan to Tree House Apartment, L.P., a subsidiary of PAHC, to purchase the West Charleston Road property from Peninsula Endowment Inc. The council voted 6-0 (with Councilman Larry Klein and Vice Mayor Jack Morton absent and Councilman John Barton abstaining) to approve the loan.
The project would feature 35 units, including 33 studios and two one-bedroom apartments. The monthly rent at the studios would range from $371 to $928, depending on the resident's income level.
The council, like every local commission that has previously discussed the project, generally agreed that the development's benefit -- affordable studios for some of the city's lowest-income residents -- makes it a project worth supporting.
Councilman Greg Schmid lauded the building's design and called the Tree House a "great project" but also cautioned his colleagues that the city is creating "a place for poor people that keeps them poor." Schmid championed taking a closer look at the south Palo Alto neighborhood and possibly creating a new "area plan" that would revise the land-use designations to make the neighborhood more vibrant and transit-friendly.
The council voted 5-1 to approve the Tree House (with Councilman Sid Espinosa dissenting, Barton abstaining and Klein and Morton absent) and directed staff to expedite its area-plan proposal for the neighborhood around El Camino Real. Espinosa voted against the proposal because of the area-plan condition. The proposed area plan should be thoroughly deliberated, he argued, and its initiation should not be based on a condition for a specific project.
A handful of area residents at the meeting spoke out against the Tree House, arguing that the neighborhood already suffers from traffic congestion and inadequate parking. Yvonne Lenbergs, who lives in the neighborhood, said the major intersections in the area are already "close to gridlock" and argued that the new project would only make things worse. The city, she said, has not spent enough time thinking about what the new project would do the neighborhood before issuing its approval.
"This process is backwards," Lenbergs said. "The area plan should have been developed first, not last."