Four-story building eyed for downtown Palo Alto

New offices would stand on prominent corner of Hamilton Avenue and High Street

Just months after Palo Alto approved construction of a new four-story building in a prime downtown location, another major commercial development is preparing to make its way through the city's permitting process before going up within a few blocks of the University Avenue Caltrain station.

Charles "Chop" Keenan, a prominent developer whose other downtown projects include buildings that house Miyake Restaurant, Wells Fargo Bank and the former Varsity Theatre on University Avenue, is looking to build a four-story building on Hamilton Avenue, near High Street. The 26,774-square-foot project at 135 Hamilton Ave. would stand just three blocks away from the Lytton Gateway development, a four-story project that the City Council approved in May despite widespread concern from residential neighbors about how the building would affect parking on their streets.

Much like Lytton Gateway, Keenan's proposed development would consist largely of office space. Its bottom three stories would all be dedicated to commercial use, while the top story would include two apartments, according to the application. The building would also include a one-story underground parking garage with 23 spots and "rotating parking lifts" that would allow cars to be stacked.

Also like Lytton Gateway, Keenan's new project seeks to establish itself as a "gateway" building to downtown Palo Alto and as the type of transit-oriented development that the city has been trying to court to reduce parking and traffic impacts. While Lytton Gateway seeks to serve as the city's architectural welcome sign to commuters arriving at the downtown Caltrain station, Keenan hopes his new building will fulfill the same function on Hamilton Avenue. That area currently is filled with eclectic mix of older buildings that house startups and small businesses as well as glassy new developments housing venture capital firms and technology companies such as Palantir, which is based at 100 Hamilton Ave.

The site where the project would be built is currently a parking lot used by Palantir employees.

In the application, Keenan notes that "as one of the few, new buildings in this part of the Downtown -- and the only new four-story building -- the project becomes an important 'gateway' into the Downtown from west Hamilton Avenue."

Another similarity between the two new four-story developments is their proximity to the downtown Caltrain station -- a factor that both applications have played. The application for 135 Hamilton notes the project would be just two blocks from the University Avenue transit hub.

"We are confident that the project will be found to be exemplary as a mixed-use, transit-oriented housing and commercial project with prominent, gateway features," the application states.

The similarities between the two projects probably aren't purely coincidental. Jim Baer, who was part of the applicant team for Lytton Gateway and who has long been one of Palo Alto's most prolific developers, is also consulting on Keenan's project.

Keenan will likely have an easier time getting the city's approval than the team behind Lytton Gateway did, however. Unlike Lytton Gateway LLC, Keenan is not seeking a zone change to "planned community" -- a designation that allows for greater flexibility and development density. Lytton's developers engaged in extensive negotiations with the city and had to offer a package of "public benefits" -- including a commitment to include a retail business at the ground floor and a $2 million contribution toward construction of a future parking garage -- to get the PC zone approval.

The project, Keenan wrote in the application, is consistent with site's existing "downtown commercial" (CD) zoning and will not need any variances, zone changes or other exceptions to the zoning code.

Keenan's first test will be getting an approval from the city's Architectural Review Board, which will get its first look at the proposed design next month, Planning Director Curtis Williams said.


Posted by Sheri, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Two apartments hardly qualifies this as a mixed-use project. We really should have a specific minimum amount of housing before a project can truly be called mixed use. And where will the Palantir employees park?

Posted by Time-To-Stop-The-Madness, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Keenan and Baer will not stop until there are twenty-story buildings up and down University Avenue, blotting out the sun.

The are both young enough to contribute to the total destruction of our downtown--turning into a Manhattan-style business district.

Posted by Paco, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Yea! Another 4 story glass building to compliment all the other 4 story glass buildings Chop Keenan bullied ARB into approving. Too bad ARB has become a tool of local developers and rubber stamp these ugly buildings because they might lose their cushy jobs satisfying their need to cater to the likes of Keenan, Baer, Rapp, etc, etc..... What a pity!

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Another office building tower proposal is not a problem since this will certainly be properly vetted by council, staff and commissioners and the stacked parking is a tremendous breakthrough but just to be safe maybe we can get the applicants to promise that one of the tenants will be a clown college; clowns are known to be very environmental and generally commute with up to 8 workers per car. Like thusly:
Web Link

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm

4 stories is not a tall building - you would think people were trying to build high-rises in Palo Alto! Drive down Santana Row, not too tall buildings, lots of charm, true mixed use, pedestrian friendly, etc.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2012 at 4:59 pm

How high does our current firefighting/rescue equipment accommodate?

Posted by Evan, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Oh noooo! A new building! Ahhhh! Palo Alto is being destroyed! Burned to the core! Oh wait, that's right, it's right by transit, only four stories tall and vacancy rates are at historic lows. Now I just feel like an idiot…

Posted by sidney, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

If the developer wants to put his money where his mouth is on the "transit-oriented" issue, he should agree that employees at this building will not be allowed to purchase parking permits. If he cant agree to that, it a snow job

Posted by sidney, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

If the developer wants to put his money where his mouth is on the "transit-oriented" issue, he should agree that employees at this building will not be allowed to purchase parking permits. If he cant agree to that, it a snow job

Posted by Train neighbor, a resident of Ventura
on Aug 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Palo Alto limits building heights to 50 feet, so I doubt they'll build over 5 stories.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Chop Keenan's buildings look ugly to my eye, but, that's just me. But, how come all the new developments all over the city are going in with such narrow sidewalks? Wide sidewalks would go a long way towards making the streets look less like tunnels.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 7:11 pm

This artist's impression is showing trees so close to the building that they would not have enough space for root system or branch system, let alone enough space for people to walk on the sidewalk if these trees were there.

Someone ought to show what it will really be like, a huge building too close to the street.

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm

there is no courtyard to the public to make it a inviting place to congregate...just another exclusive building for folks with many locks and security systems .. .. and of course..... not enough parking!

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2012 at 8:18 am

from paragraph three:

The building would also include a one-story underground parking garage with 23 spots and "rotating parking lifts" that would allow cars to be stacked.

Does this mean you can park more than 23 cars? if so how many?

Posted by jared bernstein, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 23, 2012 at 10:42 am

4 or 5 story buildings should be welcome right there at the train station. Parking is a problem to be solved in any event.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

Good-bye quality of life in Palo Alto. Hello, dark tunnel to Stanford U.


Posted by Staff and Council giveaway, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:08 am

When you have a real estate lawyer on the council like Greg Scharff who thinks the Planned Community zone is a great giveaway, nothing will stop this sham. Two luxury apartments (maybe for themselves or for a supporter) make it mixed use? And the tricky parking.
Scharff said the 322 Alma Street office building was "a benefit in itself" so "public benefits" which are legally part of the rezoning giveaway were made meaningless.
As long as a council member is into giveaways, the staff can do it too.

Posted by Corrupt developers, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

The flood gates have been opened. Developers rule the town. The City Council is destroying the ambiance of downtown Palo Alto. Soon all the one and two story buildings dotting University Avenue will be replaced with massive structures. The downtown will be cast in all shade, with no sunlight allowed to create warmth. What a pity. The ARB and City Council are in the gold lined pockets of developers who only care about taking advantage of a weak, short sighted and corrupt city hall.

Posted by Chrisc, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

I like the clown idea.
How much tax revenue is expected.
Palo Alto needs the money so that the nice
Way of life here can be maintained,
Including fire and police.

Posted by Jeff Rensch, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

This will make the jobs to housing ratio even worse than it already is.

Posted by Deja vu, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2012 at 11:51 am

How many times and again will ol' Charlie come back with the same project for the same spot. This is old news. Suppose he's banking on the rotation in City Council to finally get this project approved. He ain't no spring chicken so we'll see if his life outlasts his perseverance.

Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 23, 2012 at 12:03 pm

23 parking places? Ok. A few privileged people live nearby and walk or bike. A few more may live elsewhere in Palo Alto/Menlo Park and (health permitting) and work
standards casual, will bike downtown all year on rainy days, or overly hot sweaty
days. Some will live near enough to transit to make train or bus practical.

The majority will just circle until they find street parking. Of course no one runs
errands before or after work, children to drop off and deliver, etc.

Posted by pete , a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Sounds more like a barrier than a gateway with no public space, few parking places, little sidewalk and a serious challenge on jobs to housing ratios that already are endangered. Hope somebody will challenge this. Any welcoming commercial spaces on the ground floor?

Posted by Corupt developer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

The ARB and City Council should demand that there be a two story basement/garage to hold a sufficient number of cars. The design of the building should have some setbacks on the second floor (balconies, etc), to give some relief to the building. Of course the developer doesn't want to design some interest to the building. He just wants to get as much square footage as possible to get more rent. This is just another stark, cold building, soon to line the streets of PA.

Posted by Sue, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Anytime something is about to change in Palo Alto, a building is going to go up, Palo Altans go nuts. You don't own the city, and the whole city is not your backyard! I cannot understand such negative comments from all of you. I don't see anything wrong with the building; it looks fine to me. Four stories is not THAT tall. Did you all grow up on a farm? A city is a city and it needs and does have buildings, for heaven's sake! What a bunch of control freaks! "Eek, don't touch my town!" You are a bunch of nutty complainers.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

How many of those parking spaces underneath will accommodate the Height of a modern SUV or (Delivery/service)vans? How steep are the ramps?

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

A 26,000 square foot building will have anywhere from 150 - 250 people; and there are only 23 parking spaces. And the article mentioned that some of the nearby buildings are already using that property for parking.

And remember how the last project, the Lytton Gateway was suppose to get the city staff to do a parking study as a prelude to a parking permit program? Well it's been four months already, and no sign yet of a parking permit program.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 24, 2012 at 12:54 am

23 parking spaces for almost 27,000 sf of building. So each of the 23 daily visitors to the building has about 1,000 sf of office space. How generous. If by some chance more than 23 people drive to the building, then Palo Alto tax payers provide parking for this development. Maybe Palo Alto tax payers are believed to be very generous.

Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Aug 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

Why are so many of you "parking-obsessed"? It's almost as if you can't see "the building for the parking". Had you ever considered that the way parking works is,
"if you build it they will drive"?
PA is about to embark on a new study to build more parking - a sure way to get commuters off of Caltrain and into their cars.....

Posted by RSi, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I hope that architects aren't stuck on the Santana Row model. It looks like a movie set on the backlot of a Hollywood studio over there. Fake, fake, fake. At first glance it looks cute, but as you walk through it you see that it is nothing more than plastered plywood and faux paintwork. Please no more high rise structures pimped up to look like Parisian pied-a-terres. This is Northern California, so let's not forget it and hide it all behind behemoths. It is nice to walk down the main streets and have some California sun shine down on you, see some views of the rolling hills that surround us.

Posted by Watch out for bikers, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm

The bicycle nuts advocated less parking at the self important "Gateway" building on Alma.
Wait till they say they want less parking here too. They pretend most people will use the train. Or that you can force people out of cars if you make parking more difficult.
The developers love these guys because every parking space they don't build is worth about $65,000 profit to the developer.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm

The marketing artwork shows trees. I would like the developer and the city to guarantee that the setback is wide enough for a sidewalk with inset trees, and, that the trees are really there. For some strange reason, this "Tree City USA" town++ has been approving construction with narrow sidewalks. If they re-do downtown with narrow sidewalks, the streets will look like canyons.

++ For some reason, Palo Alto is missing from the Arbor Day "Tree City USA" site. Is there a problem?

Web Link

Posted by overdeveloped, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Note that every addition of office spaee increases the city's obligation to provide housing. Add an office building that has enough room for 100 employees and ABAG will ask you to build another 10 houses. Where does it end? Time to take back our city.

Posted by Adina, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:46 am

For people concerned about the cost of studies - a new parking structure costs millions of dollars. Doesn't it make sense to investigate whether there might be cheaper ways to solve the parking problem? By doing things such as using technology to better manage the spaces in existing structures, changes to pricing, and enabling more companies to get transit passes for their workers, Palo Alto could potentially avoid spending millions of dollars in un-needed parking structures. I think it's a good idea to do the homework and find out if there are cheaper ways to solve the parking problem.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:22 am

As a 40-year PA resident, I've seen PA buildings go from eclectic and friendly to walls-in-front-of-your-face. The picture of the building going up on University and Ramona is a case in point. PLEASE do not allow buildings, no matter what their height, front the sidewalks with shear walls and no or very little visual relief. This is especially important when they are more than one story. Architecture, when done with forethought, can be wonderful. However, the adage that the architect is only as good as their client is important to remember. It seems that the developers in question only are looking to their bottom line, not considering aesthetics.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

23 parking spaces for a 4 story office building - seriously? If the building can house 100 employees - it should have 100 parking spaces. A quick survey of other companies located downtown should reveal the actual percentage of employees that drive to work.

Santana Row comments - even if you don't like the architecture, the idea of retail topped by offices topped by housing leads to a vibrant place. And one could argue that a lot of the new buildings in Palo Alto look more like prisons with their bars than welcoming buildings. Modern can be beautiful, it doesn't have to be merely odd.

Posted by Watch out for bikers, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I just drove past the JCC and was once again overwhelmed by it huge size, no setbacks and ridiculous configuration. Their idea of beautifying it is to paste on it huge huge advertisements promoting themselves.
Thank you Jim Baer.
On University Avenue the handsome Walgreens building was replaced by an overbearing box and the big windows facing a business street have huge huge posterboards with boring pictures covering them.
Thank you Jim Baer.
We look forward to another oversized underparked ugly building to further enrich the outoftown billionaires. Thank you Jim Baer.

Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2012 at 1:45 am

Yeah from the illustration the developer offered he might just as well claimed that the building will levitate thanks to space age magnets...

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