Revised 'Park Plaza' wins staff endorsement

Palo Alto City Council set to approve a slightly less massive development at 395 Page Mill Road

A controversial quest by Harold Hohbach to build a three-story development on Page Mill Road could finally reach its terminus Monday night, when Palo Alto officials review the latest revisions to his Park Plaza project.

The proposed three-story building has seen some revisions since June 4, when the council last reviewed it and deemed it too massive and uninviting for pedestrians and bicyclists. Councilmen Pat Burt and Sid Espinosa both characterized its as a "fortress" of a development and urged Hohbach to open it up a little bit.

In response, the developer had agreed to trim the number of residential units in the mixed-use building from 84 to 82 and to reduce the research-and-development area on the ground floor by about 2,550 square feet. The latest version of the proposed development also has a pedestrian plaza and added balconies at the residential units. Pedestrians outside the building would now have a better view of the development's interior courtyard.

The project's overall floor area was reduced from 104,971 square feet to 102,225 square feet.

The biggest question that the City Council will ponder Monday is whether these changes are "substantive" enough to comply with the council's direction at the last meeting. In the opinion of the city's planning staff, they are. According to a report from Current Planning Manager Amy French, staff is recommending that the council approve the project at 195 Page Mill Road. The new design, French wrote, includes changes that break up the building mass and a street-facing pedestrian plaza that would "include paved area and additional landscaping, including trees, as well as the potential for benches or movable seating and a water feature."

"Staff believes the proposed three-story mixed use building, with revisions made to address Council's June 4th comments, would fit within the context of the existing and proposed developments; the applicant has also indicated that revised colors and materials changes along the Park Boulevard side of the project are intended to further break up the building on that side," French wrote.

The changes, and the staff's endorsement of the changes, could propel the project to council approval after a tortuous journey that included lawsuits, appeals and numerous revisions, including a change from rental units to condominiums and back to rental units. The project was initially approved in 2006 but then had to be modified after residents Bob Moss and Tom Jordan filed a lawsuit against Hohbach, charging that the environmental analysis for Park Plaza was incomplete. The lawsuit, which focused on vapors from a contaminated plume under the site, forced the developer to revise the analysis and nullified that approval.

Last year, the council was critical of the proposal and encouraged Hohbach to return under a different zoning designation, one that would have lowered the density. The developer refused, arguing that this would entail him to essentially start the approval over again.

On June 4, the council was more amenable to Hohbach's proposal, despite some misgivings about the design. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff both cited the lack of rental housing in Palo Alto in voicing their support for Park Plaza.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 21, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Last minute changes that didn't go through the Planning Commission?

Sounds like Alma Plaza and the JJ&F all over again.

How come a developer is allowed to make last minute changes that are substantive enough to be deemed okay by Amy French but is not sent back to the Planning Commission review?

Here's the new "zoning" rules for developers to build huge buildings that don't comply with the zoning rules the rest of us have to comply with.

1) Present an application to the Planning Department for a massive new building with a vague proposal there will be a public benefits, that the city doesn't enforce anyway. Be prepared to have to bargain down some square footage.

2) Keep going back to the Planning Commission (who review all requests for exceptions to zoning requirements) and refuse to cut back on the square footage. Instead make minor tweaks and go back to the Planning Commission again.

3) Repeat enough times and then blame the Planning Commission for punitive delays and abusing his right to build what he wants.

4) Circumvent the Planning Commission and go right to the City Council who will cave because he knows they always do.

5) Congratulate self for manipulating City Council for getting more than he expected in the first place anyway.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Palo Alto Whining
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm


If you think that the City or Hohbach has violated the law, explain your concerns in writing to City. Be specific; cite the sections of the code that have been violated and provide the facts to support your argument.

If you're not willing or able to do that, stop whining.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm

"Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff both cited the lack of rental housing in Palo Alto in voicing their support for Park Plaza."

They are hopeless naive or very eagerly gullible. They ought to visit the "residential" units that the developer of 499 University promised as "public benefits," but which somehow wound up being luxury office suites.

Warning: don't try this kind of thing at home folks. The Planning Dept will get ya.

Hohbach knows full well he can promise anything, and nothing will happen if (when) he renegs. Our city government gets curiously spineless in the presence of wealthy developers.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm

To tired of whining

I never said this developer broke the law. This is a comment about how the city council caves on requests to exceed allowed zoning requirements.

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