Palo Alto struggles to strike a balance with sidewalk rules

City's architecture panel offers tepid endorsements, fresh concerns about proposed changes

A Palo Alto law that requires new development to be built close to the street may soon be scrapped or modified, though officials remain far from certain about what type of changes should be made.

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5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2014 at 10:28 am

I didn't think the Architecture Review Board (ARB) could outdo itself, but it has. Do its members make decisions in caves? The so-called "build-to line" requirement is a disaster, as anyone walking the sidewalks outside buildings cheek by jowl up to the sidewalk can testify. The members of the ARB should be ashamed of themselves and should be relieved of their responsibilities post haste, before they hasten the degradation of Palo Alto any further.

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Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

Perhaps residents should show up at council with a lawyer and demand to be allowed to build to the sidewalk and stress that "any requirement for an effective sidewalk that is wider would be unconstitutional" and would constitute a "taking" of land from property owners.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2014 at 11:07 am

The most inviting façade of a building, whether approaching by car or by foot (or bike) is if the parking is in front of the building. This also makes it safer entrance and egress for all as there is much more visibility.

Please return parking and main entrance to the front, i.e. street, of buildings and leave the ugly service features to the rear where we do not have to see them.

Thank you.

3 people like this
Posted by C. M. Long
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 5, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I agree with the comment above. Parking for a building does not need to be ugly. It can have a few spaces in front and, if more is needed, behind or underneath the building. The front of the building can then be designed to be welcoming. Variation in setback as well as variety of design and plantings contribute to the beauty of a city. Who says that "urban" is defined by the look of Manhattan. Our California "urban" should be a more relaxed and friendly sort of architecture.
Page Mill Road between El Camino Real and Junipero Serra is a high tech oasis. No, that amount of space is not appropriate for the central city, but its beauty can be achievable on a smaller scale so that the human element is not crushed.

2 people like this
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I never did understand what was so bad about parking lots in front of buildings on El Camino. I think it is much nicer to see space and maybe sky passing by as I drive (yes, I DRIVE, not walk) instead of walls of buildings. What is happening now in south Palo Alto is New-York-ification to me -- the road is becoming the bottom of a canyon. If the new rules are dependent on immediate neighbors for a proposed development then walls along El Camino will be continued ad infinitum.

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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2014 at 10:43 am

Why does everything have to be codified in rock and anything that is different illegalized and vilified?

I have seen lots of parking lots in front of building that look fine as well as buildings close up to the street that have parking in the back that are just as nice. Depending on where or the owner's or architects visions both have their uses.

If you have a big parking lot in front, then if you approach from the front, or park down the street you have to travel through all the parked and parking cars. For example, the Whole Foods market in Los Altos has some parking in the front, and it is mostly just a pain in the neck. You can never see when there is a free space, and there rarely is. Yet people stop to look and block the way down to the underground parking leaving everyone hanging and waiting for one person who is often on their phone at the same time. God, I hate that.

But then there are places where parking in the front works fine, like the Safeway on Middlefield, or even the Safeway nearby Whole Foods in Los Altos.

Why can't decisions be based on what has gone before and works, whatever it is, or build on a contingency basis that will have to change if there are problems? That way they can follow the rules or design to take the consequences. Intelligence and flexibility would be nice.

There is another reason for parking in the rear, and that is to be nice and separate residential that may be in the back from commercial or office. If I owned a house in back of an office building I would rather there be parking over my back fence than a 3 or 4 story building that looks right down into my backyard or noise that goes right into my house, especially in the summer when windows often want to be open.

This idea of setting up these laws, written shoddily, capriciously and based on some inexact need or requirement needs to be moved away from.

Laws should have motivations that can be questioned, measured and looked at to see if they are meeting a public need ... and if not, they need to be struck down or changed.

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Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

It seems like there is a lot of name-calling and finger-pointing going on here without anyone acknowledging that pleasing multiple constituents and/or stakeholders (residents, property owners, developers, dog-walkers, street performers, etc) is inherently difficult. Parking in front is great for car access, but makes it less appealing to pedestrians. Parking in the rear allows entrances to front a street, but then it's harder for cars to park. This is a dilemma.

A decade or so ago, folks were complaining that El Camino and Middlefield were these vast canyons that were hard to cross and had no "street-life".. now there's lots of complaints that things are too dense, buildings are right next to the sidewalk.. I'm not sure there is a happy medium - you can't codify every street and sidewalk in the city.

To a large degree, city planning and architecture rely upon a "live and let live" philosophy.. just my two cents.

2 people like this
Posted by sidewinder
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 8, 2014 at 11:13 pm

REALLY UGLY buildings being built or recently built along Alma-- REALLY UGLY. we have an architectural review board??? REALLY what is the point. these are the ugliest buildings in Palo Alto--other than the grocery store that used to be Miki's at the Alma Village. sidewalks-- who needs sidewalks--just walk in the street---you will be safe since the traffic comes to a standstill with all of the expansive monstrosities resulting in stopped traffic. just wait---there are buildings in the works. who needs sidewalks anyhow.

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