The local Sierra Club chapter says the City of Palo Alto should not require a developer to add more parking to a planned 5-story development downtown as a "community benefit."
Instead, Planning and Transportation commissioners should consider adding a car-share program and ask Lytton Gateway LLC, the developer of 355 Alma St., to fund a study of a residential-parking permit program for the adjacent Downtown North neighborhood, the Loma Prieta Chapter wrote to the city's planning commission on Feb. 16.
Developers are asking for a new Planned Community (PC) zone designation and Comprehensive Plan land-use designation amendment to allow a 64-foot-tall, mixed-use, five-story building with an 84-foot corner tower at the former Shell station site at Lytton Avenue and Alma.
Planned Community zoning allows for greater density and for combinations of commercial and residential occupants not otherwise allowed.
Five below-market-rate housing units would be included among the 14 apartments and other "public benefits" would be added in exchange for going above the city's height and mass regulations.
The development would have approximately 155 parking spaces in a parking garage and eight street-level spaces for retail customers. But additional parking could be considered as part of the public benefit.
The Planning and Transportation Commission began a hearing on the zoning change on Jan. 25 and will continue the hearing Wednesday, Feb. 22.
In its letter to commissioners about Wednesday's meeting, the Sierra Club said the entire fifth floor of 14 rental apartments, 35 percent of which are below-market-rate, are a community benefit.
"Second, based on the discussion on January 25, we cannot stress enough the importance of not providing additional parking as a community benefit. Adding more defeats the principles of transit-oriented developments," Bonnie McClure of the Sierra Club wrote.
Brett Walonski, a transportation consultant, said at the Jan. 25 meeting that one of the biggest factors with how people are going to arrive at the site is if there will be free parking.
The Sierra Club chapter instead said it strongly recommends adding a car-share program at the site for public use. Residents who live closest to the site are likely to use the car-share service if it is accessible, McClure wrote.
McClure said the Sierra Club also recommends the parking-permit study, noting that Professorville, which is to the south of downtown, is being considered for such a program but that residents north of University Avenue face the same parking problems.
"Expanding parking capacity would only serve to accommodate increased driving -- that is no long-term solution at all and in fact, would only serve to exacerbate the parking/traffic congestion problems known for the area," she wrote.
But neighborhood leaders did not agree with the Sierra Club's assessment.
"It's a huge building, and it should not add to the parking woes of Downtown North," said Elaine Meyer, president of the University South Neighborhood Association. "The process is broken," she added.
Downtown North Neighborhood Association leader Sally-Ann Rudd agreed.
"The planning department continues to allow oversize developments on the Lytton corridor, which increase demand on Palo Alto infrastructure -- schools, water, power and of course parking loads in the surrounding neighborhood.
"The justification is that these developments are near transit hubs, so people will use public transport. But public transit use is never made more attractive by choking off the currently unlimited supply of free parking on neighborhood streets.
"Of course people will continue to use their cars, clogging streets, dumping their trash outside homes and all the other myriad inconveniences Downtown North residents are accustomed to," she wrote in an email on Tuesday.
She would also like to see a parking-permit program for the neighborhood.
"I would love to see the unlimited free-parking supply choked off by a resident-parking program. But until a program exists, developers will continue to use neighborhood streets north and south as their de facto free parking lots. Reducing the parking requirements for this development will be ineffectual when there is unlimited free parking less than a block away.
"If we want people to come to Palo Alto by bike, bus and train, then it is time the city made it a lot less easy to come by car. Choke off the supply of free parking first, then think about reducing parking spaces in private developments," she said.
The planning commission meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers, First Floor, Civic Center, 250 Hamilton Ave.