Palo Alto will forge ahead with a plan to link the Main Library and the Palo Alto Art Center with a new driveway despite concerns from some local gardeners who argued Monday night that the planned road would mess up their turf.
The plan, which the City Council approved by a 7-1 vote Monday night with Karen Holman dissenting and Pat Burt absent, calls for construction of a new plaza between the two prominent facilities and a driveway between them. The goal is to improve safety and create a "campus feel" for the two adjacent buildings along Newell Road, Public Works staff told the council.
"We wanted to provide a focal point for people to meet and greet in the area between the two buildings and a better configuration for the outdoor spaces," said Phil Bobel, assistant director of Public Works.
The most controversial part of the plan involves changes to the community garden plots, which occupy a portion of the site. The new driveway between the Art Center and the Main Library would require the relocation of up to 12 garden plots. And while some gardeners told the council Monday that this impact is reasonable and would improve the campus, others urged city officials to pursue less dramatic changes.
Rita Morgin was among the latter. Morgin approached the speaker's podium with the sign, "Please don't pave paradise. No road through our community garden."
"We really don't need paving," Morgin said. "We've got a little oasis of paradise and we need to keep it that way."
But others said the tradeoff is worthwhile. Carol Kenyon, who has been using the community garden for several years and who described her sweet peas at the garden as "gigantic at the moment," advocated for the driveway.
"It connects the whole campus," Kenyon said. "It makes the focus where it should be on the two buildings and on the idea of people getting together and participating in both buildings."
Public Works staff presented several other alternatives, including one that would connect the two buildings with a path for bicyclists and pedestrians rather than for cars. Councilman Greg Schmid and Holman both said they supported this approach, but after the rest of the council rejected the bike path, Schmid joined the majority in approving the vehicular connection. Council members noted that with both buildings undergoing major renovations, more people will likely use the facilities.
"I really think this site and the increased capacity that we're going to need as the facilities are renovated call for vehicular connection between these two parking lots," Councilman Sid Espinosa said.
The plan approved by the council aims to link two projects that so far have been proceeding on separate tracks. The $7.9 million renovation of the Art Center kicked off last summer and includes new classrooms and an improved exhibition area. The Main Library's expansion is part of the $76 million bond voters approved in 2008. The library would expand by about 4,000 square feet and will feature a new program room capable of seating 100 people.
According to a report from the city's Senior Engineer Karen Bengard, officials began to look at linking the two buildings in late 2010, as the Main Library project was being vetted by the Architectural Review Board and at community meetings.
"Because these renovations were being planned separately, under different design firms and project managers, little attention was paid to the overall integration of the campus," Bengard wrote in a report.
The project is expected to cost about $1 million, with the budget split between the bond funds and the city's general fund.