Palo Alto Weekly
News - July 19, 2013
Senior housing or not, Maybell area ripe for redevelopment
Opinions differ over whether proposed housing would make neighborhood streets safer or more hazardous
by Gennady Sheyner
When Palo Alto officials agreed last month to rezone property on Maybell and Clemo avenues to enable construction of a senior-housing development and 12 homes, they issued a warning to the angry masses opposing the zone change: Be careful what you wish for.
If the Palo Alto Housing Corporation proceeds with the approved plan, it will build 60 apartments for low-income seniors and a dozen homes to be sold at market rate. Proceeds from the market-rate homes would subsidize the senior housing.
But even if voters overturn this plan in a November referendum, the land is unlikely to remain dormant. From the city's perspective, should the referendum succeed and the zone change be reversed, the election could be a Pyrrhic victory for the residents. Effectively, it would leave the door open for a project that could bring greater traffic problems than what's being proposed by the nonprofit developer.
Existing zoning rules entitle the property owner to build 34 homes on the 2.4 acre site, currently occupied by a few homes and an orchard. The number could go up, however, if the developer were to offer some of these homes at below-market rates. According to city planner Tim Wong, project manager for the Maybell proposal, a developer would be allowed to increase density by 35 percent if 10 percent of the development is devoted to housing for residents at the "very low" income level or if 20 percent is built for those earning a "low" income. If a developer were to take advantage of this "density bonus," which is encoded in state law, the number of homes allowed at the site would increase to 46, Wong said at the council's June 13 meeting.
This alternative was a major consideration in the council's deeply controversial decision to approve the zone change. Even though the Maybell project would lead to greater density at the site, council members agreed that the changes to traffic would be hardly noticeable owing to the expectation that seniors drive far less frequently, if at all. The predicted traffic would be less than that of a development that is compliant with the original residential zoning.
"We know there would be 34 (homes) if not done by this applicant. Frankly, it could be closer to 46, by right, and there's nothing we can do to stop that from being built," Councilman Marc Berman said June 13.
Berman, who analyzed the traffic in the area over a series of visits to the site, brought up this factor in supporting the senior-housing plan. Even under a conservative estimate that uses methodology from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, traffic resulting from the Housing Corporation would be equivalent to about 31 new homes, Berman said. And when seniors drive, he noted, it's usually in off-peak hours.
Senior Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver confirmed that the city would not be able to prevent a developer from getting the density bonus, which is guaranteed by state law.
"The city cannot force a developer to build a lesser project if (the developer) is requesting something that is permitted by (legal) right," Silver told the council June 13.
An analysis by Hexagon Transportation Consultants had determined that the project would result in 16 new car trips during the morning peak-commute hour and 21 new trips during the late-afternoon peak.
Residents around the project site have disputed these findings and argued consistently that their neighborhood is already a traffic mess, thanks in part to the recent reconfiguration of lanes on Arastradero Road. At recent hearings, some showed videos and photos of Maybell Avenue during peak hours, with traffic badly congested and cars sharing roads with herds of bicyclists heading to and from schools. Though residents had other concerns about the project as well, including the compatibility of new houses with the existing neighborhood, traffic was at the center of the debate.
"With all the congestion City Council and staff have already created, it is irresponsible to increase zoning," Barron Park resident Lydia Kou told the council June 10.
Officials for the Housing Corporations have disputed residents' warnings about future traffic problems. Jessica de Wit, project manager with the Housing Corporation, noted that the vast majority of the tenants in the organization's existing properties throughout town don't work, and many don't drive. In Arastradero Park Apartments, which are next to the Maybell site, 89 percent of the senior tenants don't work, she said, and 55 percent do not drive. If a development of 34 homes were built, it would produce "38 to 52 percent more peak-hour traffic than the proposed project," de Wit said.
Prior to the council's vote approving the Maybell rezoning on June 28, Councilman Larry Klein said the planned-community zone would "afford more protection to the neighborhood than the existing zoning would."
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Eric Van Susteren,
online editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:18 am
Eric Van Susteren is a registered user.
The following comments were moved from a duplicate post:
Thanks to the Weekly for finally publishing a more balanced article on this issue! The opponents of the project have been cited over and over with their non-factual but strongly held opinions. When someone tries to explain that what could be built on the Maybell site under existing zoning, with no discretionary review by the city whatsover, opponents freak out and call this a "threat." This demonstrates their total lack of understanding of how zoning works. Thankfully, the City Council members who voted unanimously in favor of the project understood the real zoning issues. By the way, under better late than never approach, there's now a summary of proposed project and FAQs which effectively responds to the fears and exaggeration of the opponents. Link: Web Link One request: Please add the map that's included in the print copy of this story to this online version. It's important for newcomers to this issue to understand that the senior housing is at the back of the site, next to a 8 story high apartment building and existing low income housing for families (with whom they will share an exit driveway).
by resident Jul 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm
>According to city planner Tim Wong, project manager for the Maybell proposal, a developer would be allowed to increase density by 35 percent if 10 percent of the development is devoted to housing for residents at the "very low" income level or if 20 percent is built for those earning a "low" income. Once again, we see the shakedown by the BMR crowd. My view is to just call their bluff. This property in Barron Park is not guaranteed to be anything, other than what it already is, until final negotiations are completed. If the PAHC-driven fiasco is defeated at the polls, there will be plenty of time to consider options. Perhaps 10-15 tasteful market rate homes, with a small orchard open space for the public? We should be very aware of the property tax situation...market based homes pay them, while subsidized homes do not pay nearly as much.
by Craig Laughton Jul 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm
I suggest you read the story , Craig, instead of once again engaging in wacky rhetoric ( shakedown) .: "Senior Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver confirmed that the city would not be able to prevent a developer from getting the density bonus, which is guaranteed by state law." As for your comments regarding what may happen if the referendum passes, the story clearly states that the parcel is zoned for 34 homes. But since you are always wanting to spend moneyNot elections, why don't you start a campaign to get the state law changed regarding the density bonus, instead of accusing people of being shakedown artists.
by Not an issue Jul 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm
> the parcel is zoned for 34 homes. If the developer can make more money by building 10-15 homes, with consideration for some orchard open space (to increase the value of each lot), then what makes you think that 34 homes will be built? Also, there are some deep pockets around here who might want to buy the parcel and preserve some orchard lands (just for the heck of it). The main point, at this point, is that PAHC/PC rezoning should be defeated. Then Barron Park and the property owner(s)can step back and decide what they want to do. There could be a real win/win here.
by Craig Laughton Jul 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm
Well, with the density bonus the developer could build more than 34 homes. But what I think is irrelevant. Maybe you and your friends in CT could buy the parcel. I am sure your home is worth a pretty penny-- you and your Ike minded associates in CT could sell their homes, pool the money and buy the parcel. Time to walk the talk and step up to the plate. Actually Barron park really should not have much to say on the fate of the parcel if the referendum is passed. The story is clear on that. While this is palo alto and many people feel that they should have a say n property that they do not own, I think Barron park may have burnt their bridges, as the story mentions. Anyway, I have a solution-- reverse the road diet on arestadero, that will solve the traffic issue on maybell. And that being the major problem( per the residents) , problem solved.
by Not an issue Jul 19, 2013 at 6:57 pm
Rejection of the Maybell Senior housing project by neighbors reminds me of both Arbor Realty and Alma Plaza. Both of these developments came about because the neighbors rejected what was first proposed. A boutique hotel and some apartments at Arbor Realty; at Alma Plaza a 29,000 sq. ft. supermarket, both were rejected by the neighbors. Then they were forced to accept massive condo developments on both sites. If the senior housing is not built on the Maybell site, masses of BMR units will be built to comply with ABAG. If you think senior housing generates a lot of traffic wait until condos are built on the site. There is a lesson here, if you don't accept what is first proposed, you will end up with something a lot worse!!!
by South PA Neighbor Jul 19, 2013 at 10:04 pm
Court ruling boosts low-cost housing laws By Bob Egelko June 9, 2013 A state appeals court has strengthened the legal case for "inclusionary housing" laws in more than 150 California cities and counties - including San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond and San Jose - that require a certain number of low-cost units in each new housing project. Web Link
by pat Jul 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Posted by Don't be ridiculous,
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm
You, too, seem not to get that there is a huge amount of opposition. I haven't been online for much of the past few weeks, so I'm not sure what you think I been doing "for weeks on end". The core list of neighborhood volunteers constantly sharing news who will do things at the drop of a hat seems nearer 100 than 50, and that's just in Greenacres. I get dribs and drabs every once in awhile that make it clear there are active conversations going on all over the neighborhood. This isn't a classic "organization" it really is a groundswell of almost everyone affected.
Internal polls in Greenacres show almost unanimous opposition to the rezoning. Not to PAHC building under the existing zoning, just their forcing this rezone and a development of such massive size and scale at that location. Although after PAHC's dishonest tactics so far, I'm not sure I support they're doing anything here at all anymore.
PAHC not willing to fight back? Are you kidding? Them who rolled out that machine for the rezoning? They have spent significant resources trying to hammer the neighbors, good people who are genuinely concerned about affordable housing AND safety, especially for kids. A neighborhood that already hosts more affordable housing than most, PAHC continues to outright call NIMBY and worse.
One neighbor recently said of PAHC's tactics, "The noble ends don't justify the sleazy means."
The people pushing this project at PAHC have done real damage to PAHC's position in the community through their sleazy tactics in the rezone, and appear willing to damage themselves even further to get what they want in this development. They have shown ZERO outward interest in the concerns of neighbors around safety, and have treated the safety concerns like some kind of warped NIMBY cover.
If their resources are limited as you claim, perhaps it's time they listened to what the neighbors have been trying to say, for once, considering that what the neighbors are saying is sincere, and maybe be willing to consider that they made a mistake in trying to overdevelop that property.
If they had really, really done the outreach they needed to in the beginning, they would have not only realized the mistake early on, they could very likely have gotten some of this neighborhood energy to help them find a way to make something work. Instead, they treated the neighbors like enemies, and got pushback, but I think PAHC frankly got treated a lot more nicely than they gave or deserved, because many of us have been reticent to "castigate" them as you say. The people pushing project don't seem the types to "work with" the community, they seem to have been hired for their stubborn traits, as Larry Klein even admitted he'd never seen such "stonewalling" from an applicant.
Maybe you need some reminding, too, but City Council has actual duties to the citizens of this city, and Priority One is safety. Knowing what they know now about the safety problems in that location, yes, they absolutely have a duty to do what is in their power to evaluate the safety issues properly and solve them.
That's their priority. Since in this case, the City has the power to take over the property - which they tout staff report -- they could do that and place deed restrictions that prevent the nightmare scenario you propose before reselling the property and making their money back. No net cost to the City, and problem solved, but if there were costs, it would be for safety and justifiable as a City duty for improving safety for schoolchildren and reducing future liability for taxpayers.
Or City could allow citizens to work on a low-traffic community asset like an orchard, which I have no doubt they would accomplish at no or low ultimate cost to the City, if the City were willing to go in that direction. Given the disclosure on the problems in that location now, this would be a healing direction for everyone, and would give the City a way to protect PAHC financially from potential loss of value because of the discovery/disclosure of liability and safety problems. PAHC should have done the legwork beforehand, and might not have ever gotten into this. Frankly the City is to blame because I think there's evidence they pushed PAHC on this, and have been too eager to avoid revisiting the Arastradero restriping. But both take blame and have incurred significant liability by ignoring the safety problems and steamrolling the rezoning through.
The neighbors are going to fight this hard because children's safety and the neighborhood character are at stake. The referendum is only the start. It's probably not too late for PAHC to get some neighbors to help them push the City to switch gears and develop the senior units closer to downtown where the services for seniors are nearby. Or to refocus the energy on doing something at Buena Vista to help those residents. I would have been one of those people who would have invested significant time in such an effort at one time, but no more, not after PAHC has ignored neighbors concerns and engaged in such lowball tactics.
Posted by Don't be ridiculous,
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm
Are you really, truly concerned about traffic and the safety of our kids, first and foremost? Because if you are, as the neighbors are, then you can understand why neighbors have put forward this referendum to put the overdevelopment/high-density PC zoning of that parcel to the vote.
That particular parcel is just in a bad spot. The City has had an "everything goes" attitude toward growth on this side of town in the last few years, and has even put focusing on density in South Palo Alto in the new comprehensive plan. That particular location has a significant impact on the school commute traffic, and there's no way around it. There's no way to put in a lane or a driveway to get traffic from that location to El Camino without going first onto Maybell or Arastradero, very close to 4 schools.
So first of all, knowing there were serious problems there especially in the last two years, the City somehow inexplicably outlined a study that didn't involve current data from much of the last two years or the impact on the student bicyclists and pedestrians who make up much of the traffic in that area.
You don't build first and figure it can all be worked out later, especially since Maybell is of such substandard width and has already been the subject of one major six-figure safety overhaul in the last few years. There is only so much that can be done. The infrastructure hit its limit before this rezoning came up, and residents are aware of it.
Marc Berman, who couldn't have twisted himself harder to try to justify the rezoning, still admitted after coming out to the neighborhood that Maybell is not safe for the students. And he was even out here during a relatively low-traffic time - I was noticing myself because of the unusually dry weather, that traffic was better in the spring than in the fall, though still terrible. When it rains, it's an utter nightmare, but planning has to take the worst scenarios into account, because it usually rains most of the school year in this area.
But you and Marc Berman keep using that nightmare situation as justification for rezoning Maybell for this monstrosity, saying the monstrosity is safer than some nightmare alternative they keep making worse in the telling, so it improves safety, which is ridiculous.
But here's the thing. That alternative nightmare they/you propose is not realistic, and the City has full power to prevent it. In fact, given the disclosure and their responsibility to the students, they have a RESPONSIBILITY to prevent it. (This comment, by the way, will be available for any lawyer suing on behalf of an injured - or worse - student if the City continues to ignore that responsibility.)
You keep saying a developer could put in 34-46 single family homes, and because that's worse, you say, than 12 packed-together market rate homes plus a 60-unit, nearly 50-foot-tall high-rise apartment with only 47 parking spots for employees, residents, and visitors, it justifies the upzoning of that property. That's nonsense. Here's why:
1) The City made sure in the loan agreement that they have the right to take over the property, either to foreclose or to buy it at any time. This is not like a situation where a private developer owns the property and the City has no choice. The City had a choice to do a proper traffic study before and did not. They can remedy the situation, should the deal fall through, by taking over the property, doing the traffic study, and reselling it to a developer with deed restrictions that preclude the nightmare they keep holding over the neighbors' heads.
The City and PAHC keep saying it will sell for even more money (to counter criticisms that they overpaid because they were counting on the profit from upzoning the property for the market developer's benefit). So they won't be out any money, will they? And they can completely prevent any of the dire circumstances you claim to be worried about being developed on that property. They could even subdivide and sell off the parcels individually -- auction them to high-end developers to maximize the return and maybe even profit from it -- thus ensuring there would be only so many houses built there, contributing little more traffic.
2) The City has the legal ability, in the loan agreement (since they loaned more than $7million in public funds for PAHC to purchase the property), to take over the property should the deal fall through. The City Council talked about preserving the existing orchard before they even considered overdeveloping that parcel. Should a legitimate traffic study that takes into account all the other developments City Council had already approved in the area, such as the VMWare expansion which will significantly increase business traffic along the Arastradero corridor, find that the infrastructure cannot safely take another large development right at that critical juncture without endangering schoolchildren, the City has the option - the duty - of choosing a low-traffic use like a community orchard. A community orchard also has a significant public benefit and allows the City to retain nearly 100 established healthy trees.
3) The neighbors don't believe a market developer could/would put in that many houses, because under the existing zoning, there are height, setback, daylight plane, parking, internal lane width, and other restrictions. I invite others to go to Google maps and look at 567-595 Maybell. That's the address of the 4 existing ranch houses on Maybell. Look at the orchard to the right. Could you put 45 houses there next to those 4? With internal lanes? With existing setback and other limitations inherent in the zoning, what you could put in in theory isn't going to be what a developer will put in, because a 1200 sq ft 2-bedroom home just isn't that marketable, especially when over 2,000 sq ft in this neighborhood brings such a premium (that's a $2million+ home).
And it doesn't matter anyway, because in this case, if the deal falls through, it's completely within the City's power to take over the property first and place deed restrictions to prevent any scenario they think is unsafe, as they say they believe 35-45 homes would be. You/they think such a scenario is unsafe? Then they have a duty to prevent it -- they have the ability to because of the loan contract, and it won't even necessarily cost them anything. At this point, they're on record saying it's so unsafe, just the liability they incur on behalf of taxpayers if they do nothing is reason enough that they must, if they don't feel any responsibility to the safety of the kids as the residents do.
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