A proposal by Stanford University to build 180 housing units on California Avenue under a 2005 agreement with the city is now facing an appeal from a nearby resident who is arguing that the approved development violates Palo Alto's fire code.
The appeal by Fred Balin, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, challenges Stanford's proposed development at 1451-1601 California Ave., which includes 113 multi-family units and 68 single-family units. It has already received the approval of the city's planning staff and the Architectural Review Board, which voted unanimously on March 20 to support the project.
In Balin's appeal, which the City Council will consider on June 2, Balin cites the findings of traffic engineer Tom Brohard of the firm Tom Brohard and Associates, which found several violations of the city's fire code in Stanford's application. Brohard, who was commissioned by Balin and his wife to review the plans, found that the project violates the city's fire code in two instances.
First, the roads on Columbia and Amherst streets are too narrow to accommodate fire trucks, the review found. The fire code states that the minimum road width "shall be 26 feet where a fire hydrant is located on the fire access road," Brohard wrote in his report. Both of these streets are 24 feet wide, which means they would have to be widened to meet compliance.
Brohard also points to a provision of the fire code that states that dead-end fire access roads between 151 and 500 feet long must have "turnaround provisions at the end of the road." Two driveways off Columbia Street in the proposed project map are about 250 feet in length, which means that they must end in either a cul-de-sac, a 60-foot "Y" or a 120-foot "hammerhead," Brohard wrote, referring to road designs that would accommodate a fire truck that needs to turn around.
Balin raised these concerns in April, before planning staff issued its decision. When asked about his comments in late April, Planning Director Hillary Gitelman told the Weekly that staff "did consider the traffic comments we received in crafting the decision and the conditions of approval."
Despite its scope and density, the project sailed through the city's planning process with relative ease, largely because it was all but approved in 2005, when the city and Stanford entered into what is known as the Mayfield agreement. The development agreement granted Stanford permission to build 250 units on two sites around Stanford Research Park (the other housing project is on El Camino Real) and requires the university to lease to the city the 6-acre "Mayfield site" on the corner of Page Mill Road and El Camino for $1 per year for 51 years. The university was also required to build soccer fields on the site and turn them over to the city, which it did in 2006.
Given this arrangement, the city's architectural board had no qualms about signing off on the plan in March. But Balin argues in the appeal that Stanford should be required to make some changes to the project before it receives the final approval for its proposed map. The Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to discuss the tentative map for the housing development on Wednesday night.
In the appeal, Balin argues that Stanford "can easily redesign the project to resolve the two code violations." For example, it could resolve the turnaround issue by shifting four residences near Dartmouth Street and adding a new curb cut at the location. To comply with the street-width provision, Columbia and Amherst streets "should simply be widened to a minimum of 26 feet in all areas," Balin writes.
He also cites the 2009 "private streets initiative," a proposal, spearheaded by residents, to set the minimum width of streets in private developments at 32 feet. City Council ultimately approved the initiative.
"While it does not apply to this project, approved in 2005, surely the city can and must hold the applicant to widen the streets to a minimum of 26 feet to meet this fire code provision, while also improving circulation and access for all," Balin writes in the appeal.
In addition to the fire code issues, the appeal alleges that the Stanford development would create congestion on Columbia Street and would be inappropriate in its treatment of school routes. The city's approval of the developments includes a condition mandating the installation of four crosswalks at the intersection of California Avenue and Columbia Street, under the assumption that this would be the route most frequently used by students.
Balin argues in his appeal, however, that Bowdoin and Hanover streets may be more likely destinations for students and notes that each street leads to a three-way stop and a traffic light, respectively. The intersection of Columbia Street and Stanford Avenue, by contrast, has neither stop signs or crosswalks.
The appeal recommends that the conditions relating to these intersections be removed and that the applicant should "begin a process with the neighborhood for the best and safest pathway and solutions for bicyclists and pedestrians heading in and out of the development and to and from Stanford Avenue."