News

Neighborhood group raises fresh concerns about Hamilton Avenue development

PAN claims four-story proposal violates parking, density regulations

Months after losing an appeal, Palo Alto neighborhood leaders are raising fresh concerns about an approved development at 240 Hamilton Ave., a project that they claim violates local laws when it comes to density and parking.

The group Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN), an umbrella organization representing a collection of neighborhoods, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the city's planning staff for allowing the project across the street from City Hall to "circumvent laws" and calling on the city to halt the "illegal project."

The four-story development at the prominent downtown corner of Hamilton Avenue and Ramona Street would be more than twice the density of the existing building, which once housed RadioShack. The new 15,000-square-foot building will include retail space on the ground floor, offices on the second and third floors and residential space on the top floor. The project received the city's blessing last December, when the City Council voted 6-3 (with Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Greg Schmid dissenting) to reject an appeal from residents who argued that the boxy, glassy, 50-foot-tall building is architecturally incompatible with the surrounding area.

In their new statement, PAN leaders maintain that the project violates several provisions of the city's municipal code. Specifically, the applicant claimed an "exemption" from the city's parking and density requirements for a 319-foot area deemed necessary for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. City staff allegedly told the neighborhood group that the city does not grant ADA exemptions to new buildings, but it will allow it for 240 Hamilton Ave. Furthermore, the size of the exempted area was increased in recent months from 250 to 319 feet, according to PAN.

The group also remains opposed to the city's decision to treat the existing building's mezzanine space as a 2,000-square-foot "second story," a designation that justifies greater density for the new building under a "grandfather" clause in the city's code. The exemption will enable the developer to add 1,326 square feet of commercial space that would otherwise not be allowed. Land-use watchdogs have argued for the past year that the city was wrong in counting the small mezzanine space as a second floor and that this decision, while profitable for the developer, will only worsen downtown's parking and traffic problems.

"No documents substantiate that a second floor exists," the PAN statement reads. "City inspections reports dating back for decades describe the building as one story. A recent ad seeking a tenant for the building mentioned no second story. A casual glance out a window of City Hall would alert anyone that 240 Hamilton is not a two-story building."

The PAN statement also cites a December report from planning staff, which acknowledged that the 2,000-square-foot mezzanine "was part of the original construction but removed several years ago."

The project, which is being developed by Sal Giovanotto, is one of several recent downtown developments to spark criticism from the neighborhood group. In June, the group successfully appealed a proposal by developer Roxy Rapp to expand a historic building at 261 Hamilton Ave., the former home of University Art. In overturning staff's approval, the City Council disagreed with planners' definition of the term "building envelope" as one that refers to the three-dimensional space that the building occupies and does not refer to the shape of the building itself. This interpretation allowed the developer to claim that he is not increasing the building area despite including a 5,910-square-foot addition.

One point of dispute between planning staff and neighborhood critics is whether the ADA exemption should apply to only existing buildings or new ones as well. When asked about PAN's concerns, City Planner Jason Nortz noted that the ordinance granting density exceptions for handicapped access refers to a situation "when a building is being expanded." It does not specify that this applies only to "existing" buildings.

PAN maintains in its statement that the municipal code "does not allow new downtown buildings such as 240 Hamilton to claim any ADA exemption." Staff took a position that it does, though Nortz said that despite its approval of 240 Hamilton, staff is now "much more stringent about applying this code section to new developments going forward." This is based in part on the council's decision to uphold the appeal of 261 Hamilton Ave.

"Today we would limit the application of this 'exempt area' to additions only, and particularly would be strict with respect to replacement of a 'grandfathered' facility (based on the Council's direction related to the University Art building)," Nortz told the Weekly.

Related content:

Downtown development sparks architecture debate

Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 10:11 am

> In overturning staff's approval, the City Council disagreed
> with planners' definition of the term "building envelope" as
> one that refers to the three-dimensional space that the building
> occupies and does not refer to the shape of the building itself.

It's a real shame that at this point in the game, the City of Palo Alto Planning Department does not have iron-clad definitions for important architectural, and zoning, concepts that are necessary or developers to be able to get their projects moved through the zoning approval process without having to resort to, or depend upon, such deceptive practices as ambiguous interpretation of matters such as the size of the building.

The Planning Department Director should be called on the carpet for this, and asked why she is acting in the best interests of the City by allowing these sorts of practices to occur here in Palo Alto.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 3, 2014 at 10:22 am

The staff should be protecting the city and its resident against the "always more" mindset of non-resident insatiable developers. Instead City staff seem to be identifying with developers, cutting them slack, interpreting rules favorably for them, and handing out exceptions like candy. The residents, on the other hand, have become annoyances that merely get in the way of staff's vision for Big City Palo Alto.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Citizen Power Rocks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

Thanks!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Citizen Power Rocks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 10:29 am

@Jon Parsons,
You have it exactly right.

Which is why I hope thus group is paying really close attention to what is happening to the Comprehensive Plan revision, what they are doing, and who is doing it.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Don't speak for me
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:16 am

" Palo Alto neighborhood leaders are voicing new concerns about an approved development at 240 Hamilton Ave."
Who exactly are these leaders? Are they speaking for their neighborhoods? Did they poll the residents in their neighborhood? I was not asked about this,
If they are not speaking for their respective neighborhoods, then they should not claim to represent PAN.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stick to the issue
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:29 am

The right wing doesn't respond to the issue, or to the facts. it just questions the legitimacy of those who bring it up.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:37 am

Careful what you wish for. Downtown development and parking is for sure a current issue. However, the media and PAN types hope all of PA will ignore the fact that it is not the only issue. On election day be clear on who you vote for. Most of the candidates don't know the the first thing about any other issue (or this one for that matter.). It is NOT the most important issue for most Palo Altans. Please stop and think what it takes to run a city and not just jump on the bandwagon of anti-growth. It's coming so let's figure out how best to deal with it.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Citizen Power Rocks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:56 am

" It's coming so let's figure out how best to deal with it."

In other words, stop fighting the assault, you may as well sit back and enjoy it?

No.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Kerry Yarkin
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Thank you PAN!!!!! Why isn't the City Council backing up PAN?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm

KP is a registered user.

Why does the council continuously ignore what the people of our city want!?!?
We live between two huge cities that we can get to within 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the city and traffic. We do not want to BE one of those cities!!
We don't need ANYMORE housing, or dense commercial buildings with retail and no parking!

This used to be a place people wanted to come live-because of the hometown feel. Now, it's just about done. Portola Valley is looking really good right now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Isn't that where Inhabiture furniture store and design is now? Would they be coming back as part of the retail there?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Thanks you, PAN. The more representation and individuals heard from, the better. Once again, Council wants to "play nice" with a developer rather than with the people of the community. ADA exemption--you've got to be kidding. Fits in nicely--you've got to be kidding.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Take away the free city parking from the Council and city employees until they stop increasing the density and aggravating the traffic/parking problems.

Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that we've seen a 25% increase in traffic in just this past year. It's absurd that they don't list.

Request lawn signs for Holman and the other "residentialist" council candidates like Dubois, Filseth and Kou. Vote the rest of them out!

And keep writing the city council to complain! Send Nancy Shepherd's candidate web site that we want answers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Too Funny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Palo Alto residents complain about planning department employees approving such ludicrous projects but fail to admit that they created the problem by demanding city services to be outsourced. Thanks to all for outsourcing to undereducated and unprofessional contract employees. The fact that our current city manager hires low bid contractors to make important decisions on monumental projects to favor commercial developers in our community is truly a shame. Keene's shadow organization of "old buddy" senior managers who oblige local developers,such as his good friend "Sal", defies logic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

"Today we would limit the application of this 'exempt area' to additions only, and particularly would be strict with respect to replacement of a 'grandfathered' facility (based on the Council's direction related to the University Art building)," Nortz told the Weekly.

Note that first word: "today." Tomorrow and thenceforth staff will routinely grant ADA and other exemptions to anybody who asks for one.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Notice how anyone standing up to developers and their enablers in the city council (meaning the entire council and staff) is immediately attacked, delegitimized and dismissed out of hand by the right wing on TS.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Past and current pro-rapid growth council members, and the city manager and his planning staff, have refused to acknowledge that the number of employees in office buildings has changed to high-density occupancy in the last decade, and with it the increasing number of office workers needing to park.

A nice deal for developers as this means they have been and still are legally allowed to under-park each new development from the get-go. You have to wonder what influences are at work behind the scenes that have quietly squashed requiring the planning department to change Palo Alto's FAR parking requirement calculations to bring it into line with reality.

The FAR ratio has not changed for decades, if ever. I understand the the planning department still uses 250 square feet per office employee when calculating the ratio of parking that will be needed. This despite the high density occupancy model that has been the accepted practice downtown Palo Alto, as it has been within the entire Silicon Valley, for a decade or more. Especially at all those start-ups Palo Alto is so eager to accommodate.

If our council were to require the city manager, and his planning staff, to update and bring the parking ratio into line with the reality of how office buildings are actually occupied, this would with one stroke help alleviate some of the future encroachment of parking coming to neighborhoods near downtown. And stop this silly business of pretending there are fewer office employees than there actually are.

And also anticipate the parking requirements that will needed for the redevelopment blitz coming to the California Avenue district, which the council has rezoned for high density occupancy.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Not sure where the comments about " right wingers" are coming from. Most of the comments have been in favor of the actions of the PAN people. But for some reason, people like boscoli, do not like it when their dogma is questioned.
I would also like to,know if the PAN people are speaking for the residents of the neighborhoods they represent.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Not-A-PAN-Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 7:51 pm

> I would also like to,know if the PAN people are speaking for
> the residents of the neighborhoods they represent.

No--PAN is a group of self-appointed Palo Altans who claim to represent various neighborhood associations. PAN members are generally not elected by the members of these associations. Moreover, these associations for the most part are don't represent more than a small percentage on the homes/residents in the sub-sections where these various neighbordhood associations originate.

So--PAN is basically a handfull of residents, claiming to be from the neighborhood associations--but there is no evidence that they actually have a consent of the members, or the residents who are not members, of the associations with which they claim affiliation, when they act publicly.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 3, 2014 at 7:53 pm

The city staff could care less about what is best for Palo Alto. In fact, some people question their motives. This abomination of a building should be stopped.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2014 at 7:59 pm

The city council, city manager and staff should be investigated for corruption.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Sep 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm

"I would also like to,know if the PAN people are speaking for the residents of the neighborhoods they represent."

The "University South Neighborhood Association" definitely does not. It consists of a self-appointed "board of directors" that slyly pretends to speak for the neighborhood as the "Board of the University South Neighborhood Association." It speaks only for its few members.

Until a decade ago we had an actual neighborhood association called the University South Neighborhoods Group, which conducted quarterly neighborhood meetings to listen to the views of anyone who attended. The neighborhood residents voted on who would be on its board of directors.

The USNA has no such legitimacy. It never meets with its alleged constituents. It is a few individuals that front their own views while purporting to represent the neighborhood.

Let's hope the rest of PAN does better than that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2014 at 10:10 pm


"the project violates several provisions of the city's municipal code."

It doesn't matter who brings this up, these are issues which will require due process.

The appeal on this building that was "lost" was more like an appeal that was hijacked with more than a little help. With a string of orchestrated comments by the developer's family which had Gail Price and Larry Klein drooling. It was like the recent Palantir show, on the Comprehensive plan with "new" voices all repeating the same thing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by No fan of the mayor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

[Post removed.]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

I don't get why fill-in development in the downtown area is so controversial. Is this just all knee-jerk reaction to development in general? It's not like this building is being plopped down in Community Center or College Terrace.

This is downtown folks. Walking distance to an important transit spot. What's the deal?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 4, 2014 at 4:50 pm

"Walking distance to an important transit spot"

The usual knee-jerk justification for overdevelopment. What's transit got to do with city hall's giving away extra development privileges for no public benefit?

Say, ain't large parts of Old Palo Alto within walking distance to an important transit spot? Want a nice, shiny, 50 foot tall new glass cube in that 'hood?



 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2014 at 5:15 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   2 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2014 at 9:42 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Say, ain't large parts of Old Palo Alto within walking distance to an important transit spot? Want a nice, shiny, 50 foot tall new glass cube in that 'hood?"

[Portion removed.] University Avenue has long been zoned as a commercial area. All this nonsense about putting large developments (commercial or not) in residential R-1 areas is tiring, frankly. Please, come up with something more substantive than that.

[Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Sep 5, 2014 at 4:20 am

Wow, there was once a Radio Shack over there? How cool is that. The good old days, back when tech was fun:) Palo Alto is so somber now with all these bankers and venture cap types roaming the streets talking about how much dreadful money they have and what kind of boring fancy car they drive.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2014 at 6:09 am

PAmoderate, my property taxes are quite high, I'm not one of the Prop. 13 fortunates. Just like I thought, there has never been a development you didn't like, or a development you won't like in the future. [Portion removed.]


 +   2 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2014 at 11:21 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

" Just like I thought, there has never been a development you didn't like, or a development you won't like in the future. "

Nonsense. I'm reacting to your knee-jerk anti-development screed that you constantly push on these boards. I'm tired of the entitlement long-time residents seem to have on how they feel that Palo Alto should be ossified to how they remember it.

Who "owns" how Palo Alto should be? Should we freeze it at 1975? 1986? 1860?

It's like listening to all those people in San Francisco complaining about how the Mission is changing - how we need to maintain its Latino-ness. However, there was a history before the Latinos - the Irish and the Polish lived in the Mission before the Latinos. Should we have frozen the Mission to prevent the influx of Latinos?

Of course not. That's nonsense.

I get the same vibe from all these old-timers reminisce about random things that don't make sense in the 21st century.

You don't own the future of Palo Alto by yourself. And stop trying to speak for the rest of us. You may want to ossify Palo Alto, but don't be so arrogant to assume you speak for the "majority" of residents.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm

PA Moderate. It seems the issue is not about "ossifying" Palo Alto or even opposing development downtown; but rather asking for LEGAL development.

It is a reasonable expectation that any municipality would do their very best to impose the Municipal code accurately and fairly on all individuals and projects.

Furthermore, it should be considered unacceptable for senior staff to demand of employees serving under them to break the law for any reason!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

PAmoderate-I'm not an old timer. Unless you are one of the Palantir robotic neo yuppies, we might be quite close in age, but enough about me. You are a self described "moderate". Moderates are non dogmatic. They go one way, then another, depending on circumstances, never being wedded to a particular ideology and dogma. So, will you tell us how many private development projects you have opposed in the last twenty years?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm

@anon

>but rather asking for LEGAL development.

Which is why we didn't see any kind of uproar over the planned three story office building on Sherman, which was completely legal under current zoning? Let's have a moment of honesty here, the use of zoning laws, by both sides, is a means to an end. There is nothing inherent in the geology of a parcel of land, or any kind of dictate from God, which says it shall be, and will always remain, R1 or Commercial.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"PAmoderate-I'm not an old timer. "

I think you stated that you've been in Palo Alto for 40 years. Regardless of age, that to me is "old timer," whether that means you worked someone in Palo Alto 40 years ago or rode a bicycle down University Ave.

"one of the Palantir robotic neo yuppies"

Nice going there, big boy. I'm not, but I'm sure name calling really helps your argument.

"So, will you tell us how many private development projects you have opposed in the last twenty years?"

I like how you keep trying to ask these questions that are irrelevant to the thread. What inherently is wrong with building in-fill on Hamilton Ave in a largely mixed use and commercial district?

The fact that you have a desire to look at whether I support something or not in the past is indicative more of your immovable viewpoint than anything else.

I haven't heard anything else from you other than "development bad!" and focusing on ad hominem attacks (look it up - Web Link ) says a lot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Because the truth is that you have supported every single private development project in the past, and will continue to support them in the future, regardless, just as I suspected, won't you. You sir, are not a moderate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

""Say, ain't large parts of Old Palo Alto within walking distance to an important transit spot? Want a nice, shiny, 50 foot tall new glass cube in that 'hood?"

[Portion removed.] University Avenue has long been zoned as a commercial area. All this nonsense about putting large developments (commercial or not) in residential R-1 areas is tiring, frankly. Please, come up with something more substantive than that."

None of this NIMBY stuff, PAM. Zoning ain't God's law. It can be changed by the city government, and it frequently is, to accommodate favored developers or just because. If if you think mixed-use/commercial is OK near transit downtown, why not near transit everywhere?

Look, it's nothing to be afraid of. I got mixed-use/commercial in my 'hood, and it ain't as bad as you think.


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