The question of what types of developments the city should encourage downtown bubbled up Wednesday night, when the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed a proposed four-story building that a developer hopes to construct at the site of a former Shell station on Alma Street and Lytton Avenue.
The developer, Lytton Gateway LLC, is seeking a zone change to a planned community (PC) zone, which would enable him to exceed the city's zoning regulations in exchange for a set of public benefits. Because the dense project would be next to the downtown Caltrain station, it would comport with the wishes of the City Council, which last year directed staff to explore allowing greater building heights and higher density near major transit centers.
The Lytton Gateway project at 355 Alma St. was proposed in March as a 64-foot tall, five-story building with a cafe on the ground floor, office space on the first four floors and five apartments on the fifth floor. At that time, the commission voted 6-1, with Susan Fineberg dissenting, to initiate the zone change.
Lytton Gateway LLC — which consists of Boyd Smith, Lund Smith and Scott Foster, with consultant Jim Baer of Premier Properties — has since scaled back the proposal to four floors and 50 feet in height. The retail component was roughly doubled and the number of apartments went up to six, which includes three units of affordable housing. The developers have also offered two electric vehicle recharging stations and new street trees.
The project's biggest selling point, however, is the location. In a memo to the council, the applicants said the new building will "further entrench Palo Alto as a regional leader in progressive planning and design, unquestionably aided by the Bay Area's premier transit center across the street which beckons the features discussed below."
These features would include widened sidewalks, more street trees, ground-floor retail and shortened pedestrian crosswalks at Lytton and Alma.
Planning commissioners agreed that the proposed building's location presents the city with great opportunities, but they had different opinions about how to take advantage of these opportunities. Some called for more apartments, others said they would like to see even more height and others lobbied the applicants to reserve the apartments for seniors. The commission did not take any votes on the project Wednesday, but provided a series of comments — some of them conflicting — to the applicant's team.
The development will likely see further revisions before it goes to the City Council for a vote. Both the city's planning commission and the Architectural Review Board are currently reviewing the project and are scheduled to issue their own recommendations before the council rules on the zone change.