A controversial plan by developer John Arrillaga to build a new "arts and innovation district" with four office towers and a theater on University Avenue has been revised after a flurry of complaints from Palo Alto officials and residents about the height and scale of the proposed buildings.
The billionaire developer's plan for 27 University Ave. targets the area around the downtown Caltrain station, including the historic building that houses the MacArthur Park Restaurant. Under the revised proposal, which the city released Wednesday afternoon, the building would be relocated to El Camino Park, which is adjacent to the project site. The new plans also offer more details and justification about the proposed location of the buildings in the project.
The most significant revision to the proposed "arts and innovation district" is the reduced height of the office towers, though the change is unlikely to satisfy the many critics who have urged the council to maintain the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments. The earlier proposal had the tallest of the four towers at 161 feet. Now, the two tallest buildings are 103 feet and the two shorter towers are 89 feet (which does not include, in each case, a 10-foot mechanical floor). The West Tower, the tallest of the proposed buildings, has been brought down from 10 stories to seven, while the two towers initially envisioned as nine- and seven-story buildings would now be six stories. The remaining tower would be 103 feet tall, up from 92.5, and seven stories instead of six.
Under the proposed design, the office buildings would occupy the MacArthur Park site closer to University Avenue, while the theater would stand adjacent to El Camino Park.
The revisions were made after several City Council members, including Pat Burt and Karen Holman, argued at a Sept. 24 discussion that the project is too big and should be scaled back. The council is scheduled to consider the proposed revisions on Dec. 3, at which time it will also consider whether to give voters a say on the project. The city had initially discussed having an election as early as March, though the new proposal recommends pushing the vote to June. If the council were to proceed with the advisory ballot measure, voters would weigh in on whether to approve the needed zone changes and whether a panhandle portion of El Camino Park could be used for the proposed development.
The council is also scheduled to consider on Dec. 3 a letter of intent with TheatreWorks, the theater company that would occupy the new downtown theater. TheatreWorks currently shuttles between the Lucie Stern Community Center and the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Under the proposed agreement, the company would not pay rent for the new building but would make the theater available to the city and the community on terms and conditions to be determined.
TheatreWorks would also be "responsible for raising all necessary funds to develop, entitle, design and construct the theater" and pay for all ongoing maintenance and repair costs.
The plan also includes major changes to the network of roads around the Caltrain station, with a new underpass at Lytton Avenue adding a "direct connection between downtown, the Arts and Innovation District and Stanford Shopping Center." There would also be a new, two-way, 10-foot-wide bike route by the busy station. The new bike lanes would be between the sidewalk and median and would "be differentiated from the sidewalk by a slight change in level, a different color, or both."
More information about the proposed revisions is available at the city's website.