The path connecting to Wilkie Way, which was once planned for the Rickey's Hyatt redevelopment but was hotly contested by some neighbors, was scrapped from plans for the new Arbor Real and SummerHill communities that are currently being built on the Rickey's site at El Camino and Charleston Road.
Members of the Charleston Meadows Residents Association strongly opposed a public-access route from the 181-home development on the grounds that public parking within the development is inadequate and egress on Wilkie Way would encourage public parking in the adjacent neighborhood.
But 56 residents signed letters in favor of opening a pedestrian/bike pathway, now that the Elks Club housing map is being created. The residents said the access would encourage a walkable neighborhood, since a path to Wilkie would create an easy route from El Camino to the Wilkie bicycle and pedestrian bridge that leads to and from Mountain View. Without a Wilkie Way path, residents of Arbor Real, the 45-home SummerHill development and the 45 Elks homes will have to exit the development on El Camino Real -- or travel along Charleston to get to the Wilkie bridge. Children, the blind and the mobility-challenged would be forced onto the busy roadways, proponents of a pedestrian/bike path said.
Lack of access only feeds exclusivity, some long-time residents said.
"Access allows people to live together in a much friendlier Palo Alto spirit than does building fences to separate us," said longtime Charleston Meadows resident Jean Olmsted, who is spearheading the drive for a pathway.
Charleston Meadows residents would also benefit from the pathway into the new development, which would allow for a shortcut to the Elks Club, a new dedicated public park, El Camino restaurants, a bus stop and safe crossings of El Camino at traffic signals, she said.
The only remaining potential access from Wilkie to El Camino is through a narrow strip of land between the Elks property and Dinah's Garden Hotel, which owns the vacant strip, according to Curtis Williams, the city's assistant director of Planning and Community Environment. The easement could be approved in the tentative subdivision map for the Elks project, which will be reviewed by the Planning and Transportation Commission on Nov. 28.
Members of the city's Architectural Review Board (ARB) strongly supported pedestrian and bicycle access in Palo Alto during their Sept. 20 review of the SummerHill Homes project, Olmsted said. An Oct. 18 ARB staff report also noted the need for a pedestrian/bicycle connection to Wilkie Way.
The new developments are not, however, completely walled off from the surrounding community.
"There will be walkways between the buildings, leading to Charleston, [by which] pedestrians can access Charleston Road. There is no vehicle access to Charleston, however," Steven Turner, a city senior planner, said.
Residents opposed to the route connecting to Wilkie would prefer turning those walkways into ones that could accommodate bikes as well.
"This issue could be resolved, in my opinion, by DR Horton opening a pedestrian-bike path onto Charleston. This access would connect people directly to bus stops (e.g., 88) and the bike path without putting the adjacent neighborhoods at risk for overflow and convenience parking by the Elks Club and residents for SummerHill and DR Horton residences. This is my personal opinion, Charleston Meadows Residents Association President Carlin Otto said by e-mail.
William Cutler, a Park Boulevard resident, said he is not taking sides in the potentially divisive issue. He prevailed upon the Palo Alto City Council in an Oct. 11 letter to find a creative solution that could satisfy all sides. An easement between one of the projects and Wilkie Way that is used for emergency personnel could be opened on a trial basis for bikes and pedestrians, he suggested.
"If the feared overflow parking in Wilkie Way does not occur, keep the barrier open. However, if parking on Wilkie is a problem, close the barrier," he said.