News

Stanford wins approval for El Camino project

Palo Alto's architecture panel clears the way for 70-unit development

Stanford University's plan to build 250 housing units for its faculty in the College Terrace neighborhood scored another victory Thursday, when Palo Alto's architecture panel unanimously approved a new affordable-housing development along one of the busiest stretches of El Camino Real.

The 70-unit development is the second major housing project proposed by Stanford and approved by the city in the past month. On March 20, the Architectural Review Board approved the construction of 180 housing units on California Avenue, which includes a mix of single-family homes and multi-family units.

Both projects are part of the city's 2005 agreement with Stanford, under which the university constructed soccer fields on the corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road and leased them to the city for 51 years for $1 per year. In exchange, the city agreed to grant Stanford the right to build 250 units on the two sites.

The El Camino development drew much praise and little criticism from the board, which voted 5-0 to give Stanford the go-ahead. The development will consist of two wings: a four-story brick west wing with a curved design intended to resemble a "swoosh" and a three-story east wing, known as "cube," with a rectangular shape and cement fiber panels. The two wings would be connected by a transparent breezeway at the upper levels.

Apartments in the new development will range from one to three bedrooms. The taller west wing would include 54 units: 24 with one bedroom, 12 with two bedrooms and 18 with three bedrooms. This wing will also include commercial spaces on the ground floor that would be used by the current tenant, the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The east wing will include the remaining 16 units, 12 with two bedrooms and four with three bedrooms. It would also include a small cafe on the ground floor.

Despite tiny quibbles about colors and what some saw as excessive simplicity of the cube wing, the board was generally enthusiastic about the development at 2500 El Camino Real, just north of Page Mill Road. Even residents from the adjacent College Terrace neighborhood had good things to say about Stanford's housing proposal, noting that the university had agreed to reduce its construction hours in the evening and offer Eco Passes for VTA buses to building residents.

The one area of contention had to do with bike paths. Several members of the College Terrace Residents Association requested that Stanford build bike and pedestrian amenities in the back of the property, where the project's parking lot would be located. Travis Giggy, who has two sons who attend Escondido Elementary School, argued that many students will use the back route to avoid the busier streets and crosswalks on El Camino and California Avenue.

"I would humbly request for Stanford or the architects to take a second look at building some safe walkways behind the projects so the tenants of this building and the children could have a safe way to walk to school."

Brent Barker, president of the resident association's board of directors, said he and the board "basically like this project" but made a similar plea for pedestrian amenities in the back of the property. Adding a bike path at the 24-foot easement behind the building would make commuting easier and safer for students, Barker said.

Stanford has resisted this approach, arguing that the area next to the parking lot is intended to be primarily for cars and that directing bicyclists to the area would do more harm than good. Christopher Wuthman of Stanford Real Estate said the plan specifically placed amenities for bicyclists and pedestrians on well-used corridors and destinations. This includes El Camino, where the building's setback will create wider sidewalks (consistent with a city objective) and near the soccer fields on the Page Mill corner.

"We are opposed to directing and facilitating bicyclists and pedestrians toward the unsafe vehicle driveway that is patently for vehicles," Wuthman told the board.

The board concurred, with Vice Chair Randy Popp agreeing that directing pedestrians and bicyclists toward the parking lot would be dangerous.

"If my son was riding to school out of this project, I would not let him ride through the parking lot," Popp said.

Though Popp suggested that the evolved design for the project may now be too simple, he joined his colleagues in giving the development a green light. Chair Lee Lippert called it a "terrific project" and board member Clare Malone Prichard said Stanford's team has "done everything we asked them to do." She said she was "very much in support of the project as it is presented." She also lauded it for its treatment of El Camino sidewalks, which are currently about 8 feet wide but which would vary from 13 to 18 feet once the existing commercial buildings are demolished and the new development is constructed.

"The width of sidewalks, with setting the building back, is absolutely matching up with what we've been asking for with all of our zoning changes," Malone Prichard said, referring to a proposed sidewalk ordinance that is now being reviewed by local boards and commission. "I appreciate that."

Comments

Posted by No to CT, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 6:04 am

No to bicyclists in the parking lot, as with an pointed out-- it is dangerous. But also no because itnisntime to say no to CollegenTerraces excessive and continual demandsbthatbserve only their interests and not the city as a whole.


Posted by Carlton, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:11 am

That area is already crowded enough as it is. Why there? Stanford owns so much land by 280.

Stanford University and Palo Alto City Council - I scratch your back - you scratch mine. Sad. Not in the interest of those who are residents.


Posted by No to Ct, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 8:21 am

Carlton--it is near public transit corridors, 280 is not. It is part of an agreement that was signed over 10 years ago. This is very much in the interest of residents.


Posted by Jared Bernstein, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:36 am

Editor: a map would be helpful for this story.


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:43 am

Oh goody! MORE people. Only takes 45 minutes from Oregon Expressway to University Avenue city as it is!


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:46 am

Oh goody! MORE people, more housing, more traffic. Only takes 45 minutes to get from Oregon Expressway and Middlefield to University and Middlefield. I just LOVE my car, don't mind spending an additional 10 minutes to go such a short distance. Seriously, all of this building has got to stop!


Posted by Frugal, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

Referendum anyone? You've done it before and surprised everyone.

Time to do it again.


Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:46 am

@Frugal - this was actually "approved" in 2005, not sure a referendum would help. Not to mention the fact that we actually do need more housing...


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2014 at 11:50 am

There is nothing surprising in this story. Including the fact that College Terrace residents will not like it.

The one thing that I ask, is where will the kids go to school? I strongly suggest that 250 homes will produce 250 school age kids on average.


Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The 180 units on Upper California Avenue are for Stanford faculty at market rate. As for the 70 BMR units on El Camino Real, up to 30% can go to Stanford 'employees' with the balance to those who work or live in Palo Alto. Do not know if that would include any faculty and believe this allotment was intended for non-faculty employees.

From the applicable section of the 2005 Mayfield Development Agreement:
"To the extent permitted by law, priority for all BMR units shall be given to those eligible households with at least one household member who either lives or works within the city limits of the City of Palo Alto, provided, that for no more than 30% of the units, Stanford may give priority to households whose members neither work nor live in Palo Alto but which include at least one individual who is both (1) an employee of Stanford University and (2) not a student at the University."


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Oh, goodie. MORE people, more cars, more gridlock, more exhaust fumes.


Posted by Complain Complain, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Frugal--this was part of an agreement that Palo Alto signed almost 10 years ago. too late now. Going back on the agreement would not be good since Palo alto has benefited for almost 10 years.

Resident--CT residents do not "like" things because they really do not like them--they just use it for more demands from the city. they never let an opportunity to extract concessions to pass them by.

For all of the people complaining about too many cars and too many people, perhaps you should push the city to be like Atherton--no businesses. Period. demand that all stores, companies etc leave the city by 2020--will cut down on traffic and people.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Mayfield agreement fact sheet:
Web Link


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm

From ARB Report 4-3-14 at
Web Link

"The proposed project is required to provide 181 parking spaces (146 for residential and 35 spaces for commercial). The AS1 standards provides the allowance that the total required parking may be reduced by up to 20% by the Director upon a finding that the reduced parking will be adequate for the project.

"The applicant has requested consideration of a 20% parking space reduction and provided a letter detailing the reasons to support this reduction. ...
The Planning Director, after reviewing the letter and consulting with the Chief Transportation Official, has given support for the requested 20% reduction, reducing the required parking for this project to 145 spaces."

Is anyone surprised?


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Are you saying, pat, that the request for the reduction in parking is not based on valid reasons? You post seems to be filled with innuendo. You posted the agreement, a comment about the parking and a comment about the request for mitigation. Why not post the basis for the request. You suggest that something is not right. so, provide some proof that something is amiss.
I do not see how this will impact Los altos.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

"Are you saying, pat, that the request for the reduction in parking is not based on valid reasons? You post seems to be filled with innuendo."

" ...the total required parking may be reduced by up to 20% by the Director upon a finding that the reduced parking will be adequate for the project."

The director of planning has the option to reduce the parking requirement or not to reduce it. The director of planning chose to reduce it. It's an old habit and, as with any old habit; it would have been astounding if the request was not granted. Don't read too much into it.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm

"Don't read too much into it."

Ain't that the truth. I wouldn't worry about the usual complainers, Rupert, I think they're just upset about how increasingly irrelevant they're becoming.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

" I wouldn't worry about the usual complainers, Rupert, I think they're just upset about how increasingly irrelevant they're becoming."
Especially those that do not live in Palo Alto.


Posted by Margaret Fruth, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Margaret Fruth is a registered user.

Once again the ARB thinks they can squeeze a little more density, but without more parking. Appeal to City Council, anyone?


Posted by Jimmy, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I still don't get why the Cal Ave development wont have access to Page Mill road, allowing the Stanford faculty to have faster access to their jobs on campus vs cutting through College Terrace. Stanford is redeveloping the site on Page Mill anyhow, so why not just put a road through it... seems silly.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Why don't you file an appeal, Margaret, if you feel it is such a. Problem. Anyway that ship has already sailed. The time to appeal was back in 2005, before the agreement was signed. Check out the terms of the agreement with regard to what Stanford can build.. Note the right of the planning director to agree to a decrease in parking. Stop acting liked spoiled children and live up to,your end of an agreement


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Rupert...

There is no agreement between College Terrace residents and Stanford. The "Mayfield" agreement is between the City of Palo Alto and Stanford.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Ahem-- college terrace is part of Palo Alto. Despite what CT would like, there is no reason for agreement between CT and Stanford. Agreements between the city and Stanford include CT
But if you would have read the article:
"Even residents from the adjacent College Terrace neighborhood had good things to say about Stanford's housing proposal, noting that the university had agreed to reduce its construction hours in the evening and offer Eco Passes for VTA buses to building residents."

And

"Brent Barker, president of the resident association's board of directors, said he and the board "basically like this project" but made a similar plea for pedestrian amenities in the back of the property. "

So, what is your point, ahem????


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Rupert...

College Terrace residents are not bound by an agreement to which they are not signatories.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Ahem-- you really think so? So every agreement the city enters into is not binding on any resident that did not sign it? [Portion removed.]


Posted by boiscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 5, 2014 at 6:46 am

I'm just shocked, absolutely shocked that Stanford wins approval for another development. What a novelty. Obviously, what Palo Alto needs is more developments, more people and more traffic. We should not stopp until we resemble Hong Kong.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2014 at 9:20 am

Marie is a registered user.

Once again, the city of Palo Alto has traded permanent concessions for a temporary lease. 51 years may sound like a long time, but as leases of other Stanford properties come due, Palo Alto will realize what that really means.

And once again, and this does not appear to be guaranteed by the 2005 agreement, Palo Alto has agreed to reduce parking for.... nothing as far as I can tell, in an area that is already short of parking.

I only hope that Palo Alto hasn't agreed to let Stanford close off parking on the street in front of this area during construction as they did on Alma and on part of El Camino. If they didn't approve such overly dense developments, construction crews could park onsite and not further exacerbate Palo Alto's parking problems. Given the wording of the agreement, I don't know if the community can appeal to the city council to increase the parking at this new development. And even if they did, the council would probably not reverse it.


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm

All current members of the Palo Alto City Council must go. Clean Sweep!


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Ahem-- start a recall campaign since they are nit all up for re- election this year. Also remember that this forum is not an accurate reflection of the city-- incumbent council members get re- elected and re- elected. Of course the question for you is, do you really think the council should be recalled for honoring an agreement that was signed in2005.
Have you spoken to Brent barker in CT about a lawsuit, since he did not sign the agreement and it is not binding upon him ( according to ahem)


Posted by Jetman, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2014 at 11:01 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2014 at 6:34 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Transportation and parking seem to be two of the big unsolved problems associated with development, so I think any transportation issue (cars, bikes roads, etc) should receive extra scrutiny. Developers never really want to actually provide the extra transportation capacity needed to serve the burden their developments create, and often turn to compliant traffic consultants to produce questionable traffic studies.

Every development requires a traffic study, but traffic just keeps getting worse with every development. Something is not working.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

How are developers supposed to provide " extra transportation capacity"? Are they supposed to build new roads? There is another thread discussing plans to widen some of our local roads. Read the opposition to that suggestion.


Posted by CJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2014 at 10:27 am

enough -- maybe YOU should get out of your car if it bothers you so much. Train, bike, bus, etc. You are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

boiscoli -- maybe if more people who work in Palo Alto live in Palo Alto, there will be less gridlock. And as No to ct said, this housing is situated to take advantage of existing public transportation -- Marguerite shuttles, CalTrain, etc.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2014 at 11:04 am

Annette is a registered user.

I don't see the point to revisiting what was agreed to years ago but do think any unapproved development plans need to be put on ice until the cumulative impact of all approved and proposed plans is fully and honestly assessed. A comment above about resembling Hong Kong makes a good point about density. At some point there's got to be an acknowledgement that the area cannot continue to absorb new development and all its implications. Palo Alto is nearly fully saturated now; additional development will serve only to exacerbate existing problems. I get the impression that our planners and other decision makers address each new proposal as though the area is a blank slate.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Like the poster above has indicated, palo Alto is saturated. There is no more space for development and none for more population density, this project should have been put on ice, like all other development which would increase traffic and population density. Even sardine can manufacturers, unlike the Palo Alto city council, know that you can squeeze only so many sardines into a can.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm

@boscoli

You're right, who has ever heard of a city that is able to function, let alone thrive, with more density than Palo Alto...


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Q (at end): at a presentation about this project the developer described in some detail a stacked parking/car elevator that was planned for this development. I didn't pay close enough attention to the #s to recite here if use of that would allow for sufficient parking for the building, but it did seem like a creative approach to the problem. Does anyone know if this part of the plan survived?


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