A developer's plan to build a three-story building next to Sarah Wallis Park in the rapidly changing California Avenue Business District is meeting resistance from area residents, who are urging the city to halt the project.
The plan for 385 Sherman Ave. calls for the demolition of an existing one-story office building and the construction of a 55,566-square foot building with two levels of underground parking. The new three-story building would have four residential units in its southeastern corner and office space on all three floors. The city's Architectural Review Board is scheduled to consider the proposal on Thursday morning.
The building is in located in the "community commercial subdistrict" zone, which permits building density that is twice the square footage of the site area (what's known as 2:1 floor-area-ratio). In this case, the proposed development is exactly twice the square footage of the 27,783-square-foot site.
The city's planning staff is recommending that the board approve the project, which is not requesting a zone change and would not need to go through the Planning and Transportation Commission to get the final green light. Dwight Clark, who lives nearby at Birch Court, has criticized the development for being "too massive." In a letter to the city, Clark argued that the building's "overwhelming height" and "short setback" will result in a loss of sunlight for several buildings within Birch Court.
"In a block made up of a city park and residences, it overwhelms everything else and simply is out of proportion to the neighborhood," Clark wrote.
Ken Kiser, also a Birch Court resident, submitted to the city a lengthy letter that challenged the environmental analysis for the project and called the project "dangerous and not well thought out, trading speed for thoroughness." He argued that the project should require a full Environmental Impact Report rather than the briefer analysis known as a "negative declaration."
"The plans seem to try to maximize the size of everything with no regard for aesthetics or fitting in with the community, and often violate the 'spirit' of the laws that rules regarding trees, landscaping, toxins controls, etc.," Kiser wrote.
The new plans submitted by Daniel Minkoff are the latest of several proposals that city officials have considered for the Sherman Avenue site over the last five years. In 2009, the site's prior owner, MF Sherman, LLC, proposed a project with about 50,000 square feet of office space and two residential units. At the time, residents expressed concerns about the building's size as well as parking impacts and the property owner withdrew the application.
The main differences between that proposal and the new one is the relocation of the residential units to face Sarah Wallis Park and a new location for a garage ramp. The Architectural Review Board reviewed Minkoff's proposal in December and recommended a wider sidewalk and a reduction in height suggestions that were included in the latest application (the building is now 4 feet and 7 inches shorter than it was under December's proposal). Under the latest design, the third floor will also be set back further to break up the building's massing.
Though the vast majority of residents' letters oppose the project, a few are urging approval. Barron Park resident Tom Johanix argued that the project will "bring new energy to the area and do so with architectural elements that will certainly add to the area." He also applauded the development for staying within the city's zoning rules.
"It's refreshing to see a proposed project that dos not appear to require any special considerations from a zoning standpoint," he wrote.
The proposal for 385 Sherman Ave. is the latest in a series of office-heavy, mixed-use developments that are now taking root at California Avenue. These include two large developments by Harold Hohbach, Park Plaza and Birch Plaza and the three-story building now being constructed at 260 California Ave. Other projects nearby include the College Terrace Centre on El Camino Real and College Avenue and the recently approved mixed-use building around Equinox Gym, at 3149 El Camino Real.