Stanford University hit an unexpected hurdle on Monday in its bid to build 180 housing units in College Terrace when the Palo Alto City Council agreed to hold a hearing on a resident's appeal of the project.
In voting to hear the appeal from College Terrace resident Fred Balin, the council went against the recommendation of the city's planning staff, which urged the council to uphold its decision to approve the project. The development already received the unanimous blessing of the city's Architectural Review Board and Planning and Transportation Commission.
The project at 1451-1601 California Ave. is one of two residential developments that Stanford is allowed to build under the 2005 Mayfield Development Agreement (the other project is at a nearby site on El Camino Real). It includes 68 single-family homes and 112 multi-family units and involves the demolition of 290,220 square feet of existing commercial development.
In appealing staff's approval of the Stanford development, Balin alleges that the project violates the fire code and does a poor job in accommodating students' school routes. He and his wife had commissioned a report from traffic engineer Tom Brohard, who concluded that the project did not follow fire regulations relating to street width. While a street with a fire hydrant is required to be at least 26 feet wide, both Columbia and Amherst streets are 24 feet, he noted.
The item was listed on the council's "consent calendar," a catalogue of decisions that members generally approve by a single vote with no discussion. This time, however, the council agreed to pull the Stanford item and schedule a public hearing on June 23.
In addressing the council Monday, Balin noted that the council had recently upgraded its fire code and said his appeal pertains to a "matter of safety in and outside the project." Other cities, including San Francisco, are looking at going beyond the fire-code regulations in approving new developments, Balin said. Why, he asked, is Palo Alto "creating justifications for waivers for the adopted fire code?"
Planning staff and the fire marshal took the position that the 26-foot requirement doesn't necessarily have to be the distance between the curbs. It could take into consideration rolled curbs or certain types of sidewalks as long as the fire apparatus has enough space to operate. The staff report also stated that the width proposed as part of the project "will provide adequate area to park emergency vehicles and operate a hydrant."
Chris Wuthman from Stanford Real Estate told the council that the project has already been modified based on feedback from College Terrace residents and noted that all the commissions have signed off on it.
"In sum, this project has been very thoroughly vetted by city staff," Wuthman said. "It's been responsive to all requirements established by the city and it complies with all applicable codes and ordinances."