Four sets of residents had appealed the planning director's decision to approve the 6.5-acre development planned by Classic Communities. They and other critics who spoke during Monday's three-hour public hearing argued the project, on the corner of Loma Verde Avenue, would negatively impact the area's traffic and overwhelm nearby schools with new students.
Many also argued the city was only taking a piecemeal look at individual housing projects rather than considering the cumulative effect of it and numerous other large nearby developments.
Since the council was primarily reviewing the project's design, neighbors spoke about the development's look too. They complained Classic Communities was using cheap-looking materials, including corrugated steel. Some had derisively called the design "futuristic."
"It's totally out of character with our neighborhood," Loma Verde Avenue resident Stiv Ostenberg said.
"Not so long ago being called futuristic would have been a compliment," replied Scott Ward, vice president of Classic Communities.
The city's Architectural Review Board had narrowly approved the project's design earlier this year, with a 3-2 vote.
"This did not receive a resounding A+ approval, but it did receive a passing grade," architectural-board vice-chair David Solnick said. The board had asked for some minor design issues to return for its approval later, which will now happen.
Councilman Bern Beecham hoped to have planning staff again review the design, to make it more "traditional." But most other council members decided they did not want to be judging aesthetics.
"It's not our business," Councilwoman Dena Mossar said. "It's not good community planning."
The council's vote was 8-1, with Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell voting against the project. She agreed with appellants that the project should have had a more complete analysis of the environment impacts.
Over the last year, the council has been taking steps to address residents' concerns that numerous south Palo Alto housing projects will overwhelm the area with new residents. It's updating sections of the city's long-range land-use plans to examine such new developments' impacts. It's moving towards exempting housing from commercial zones in the city.
Last October, the council made it more difficult for housing to be built on industrial land, such as on West Bayshore Road. However, that action "grandfathered" in applications that had already been submitted, such as Classic Communities
"If we set up rules, we have to follow them," Councilman Larry Klein said.
Supporters of the Classic Communities project included the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto and the Housing Action Coalition.