As College Terrace residents prepare to welcome a new housing community for Stanford University faculty into their eclectic neighborhood, many are concerned that the traffic generated by the new houses will disrupt and congest local streets.
Dozens brought their concerns to the Thursday morning meeting of the Architecture Review Board, which unanimously signed off on the proposed designs of the 68 single-family homes and 112 multi-family units that comprise the project at 1451-1601 California Ave. Though residents acknowledged that the new housing units are effectively a done deal, having been approved in 2005 through a development agreement between the city and Stanford, many argued that the university should have done a better job evaluating the traffic impacts of the 180 new units.
The houses would be built on a 17-acre site just south of Hanover Avenue, which currently includes three office buildings.
Brent Barker, president of the College Terrace Residents Association, alluded to a petition recently signed by 600 residents, calling for a more robust plan for managing traffic during construction and for having better traffic circulation once the houses are built. A group of residents has been meeting with Stanford and city officials in recent weeks to discuss a construction-management plan, a process that Barker said his neighborhood is "quite pleased" with. But the residents are less content when it comes to the traffic that will hit local streets after the construction is completed. He questioned the project's traffic analysis, which indicated that the vast majority of the traffic will travel south, toward Page Mill Road, rather than north, toward Stanford Avenue, an already busy street that abuts the College Terrace neighborhood and that serves as a popular route for school commuters.
Barker and other speakers said that they had observed the traffic patterns near California and Hanover and saw a roughly even split between the two directions.
"We're hopeful that if we're right and Stanford is wrong and there's a surge of traffic coming out of the project after completion, that city and Stanford will work with us to mitigate this," Barker said.
Fred Balin, speaking on behalf of a group of residents, quoted a recent comment by former planning Commissioner Eduardo Martinez, who resigned last week for health reasons and who in a public hearing last summer described Stanford's response to the community's traffic concerns as "very arrogant." Balin asked Stanford officials to "respectfully stop telling us that all is fine."
"When 600 of your neighbors sign a petition that say there is a problem, there is a problem," Balin said.
Board members acknowledged residents' concerns but repeatedly reminded the public that their purview is architecture, not traffic. On the design front, the board agreed that Stanford has done a good job in imitating the architectural variety of the surrounding neighborhood. Project architects said the 180-unit development includes 11 different floor plans and 29 different architectural styles. Exterior walls would include a wide range of materials, including stucco, fiber cement siding, vertical board-and-batten siding; and stained cedar horizontal siding, according to a staff report. Roofs would include red clay tiles, asphalt shingles and flat concrete tiles, depending on the building.
The design details won over both planning staff and the board. City Planner Jodi Gerhardt, project manager for the proposed development, said staff believe "that the proposal on California Avenue does reflect the eclectic nature of the homes across the street."
Board member Alexander Lew agreed, even after acknowledging concerns from some College Terrace residents that the proposed housing doesn't "perfectly match" the character of the neighborhood.
"I'd actually agree that it doesn't perfectly match, but I do feel like it does capture the eclectic nature of College Terrace," Lew said. "I'd be hard pressed to figure out what's going on exactly in College Terrace. I think you have more variety than we've seen in most housing projects in Palo Alto."
Staff also defended the traffic analysis, which was completed in 2005 and which was based on 215 dwelling units rather than 180. That study, which was conducted by the consulting company Hexagon, estimated that the project would add 110 trips during the morning peak hour and 137 trips during the evening peak hours. A more recent, site-specific analysis by Hexagon estimates that the housing units will result in 50 and 94 trips in the morning and evening peak hours, respectively.
The new study from Hexagon states that consultants believe "that at least 60 percent and likely 70 to 80 percent of faculty living in this project will get to campus by an alternative mode, such as bicycling, walking or taking the Marguerite shuttle."
"Further, some faculty may work from home for a portion of the day (many of the units will include a room to be used as a study) and will not necessarily travel to and from work during the standard peak hours," Hexagon consultants Gary Black and Jane Clayton wrote in a memo earlier this month.
While the board didn't dwell on the traffic issues, Chair Lee Lippert advised Stanford to consider and respond to the residents' concerns. He called the traffic issues "the elephant in the room."
"I think that Stanford needs to enter into a dialogue with residents there and begin to address their concerns," Lippert said. "They simply aren't going to go away."