The 13,688-square-foot former Maharishi Vedic Center at 1101 Embarcadero Road, adjacent to the redeveloped Edgewood Plaza Shopping Center, initially housed offices for developer Joseph Eichler. It has seen other uses through the decades, mostly as administrative offices, including for Round Table Pizza and for recruitment services and advertising, according to city documents. The meditation center, which had three staff members and held classes, did not use many of its allotted 16 parking spaces in the shopping center parking lot, city staff reports state.
The new concerns date back to the redevelopment of the shopping center. When developers proposed the remodel, they planned to reduce the number of overall parking spaces from 250 to approximately 153.
The City Council questioned planning staff about how the smaller parking lot would impact parking for the office building, which was not part of the redevelopment plan but which used 16 of its parking spaces. When city staff issued an Environmental Impact Report for the shopping center, they did not take into account how the meditation center might be used in the future, since it was not being redeveloped.
Residents at the time insisted that future parking for the building should be considered as part of the environmental study. The city requires one parking space for every 250 square feet of office space. The building has 10,300 square feet of office space (the rest is storage). As such, the offices should be required to have 55 parking spaces, residents said. They urged the council to reject the center's redevelopment until it met the parking requirements.
Curtis Williams, then-director of planning and community environment, told council members in March 2012 that an owner requesting a new use-and-occupancy permit for the building would be required to address parking requirements. A change would not be permitted until parking space issues were resolved, he said.
Now that assurance has been challenged by Amy French, the city's current chief planning official.
The building's new owner has stated his intention to lease the building to an office tenant, she said in an email to resident Jeff Levinsky and Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association President Karen White. But the new offices are not subject to additional parking requirements, since the building is only having minor renovations.
If the building were replaced, on-site parking would be examined during planning review and public hearings, she said.
Levinsky said French's statement conflicts with those made by staff in the shopping center's Environmental Impact Report. In staff's responses to the draft report, the city acknowledged a future change in ownership or tenancy could increase parking demand. But parking supply would be reviewed through the permit process, they wrote.
Levinsky expressed concern that the office workers will need far more than 16 spaces, especially considering how start-ups have done away with formal offices in favor of packing in laptop-toting employees around conference tables. If that were the case, worker's cars would end up on neighborhood streets or take up spaces meant for shopping center customers, he said.
"It will be the shoppers who will be inconvenienced, and they will go elsewhere. It would be jeopardizing the whole shopping center, and that would be tragic," he said.
French on Wednesday said in an email that "a statement about resolution of parking spaces is not a statement that says new parking spaces will be provided. I do not know what Curtis had in mind when he said the word 'resolution.' The office site has no physical area available for additional spaces. There is no proposal to modify the building footprint. There is no requirement for the owner to do so to accommodate parking on site — this was not a condition of the Edgewood Center Planned Community," she said.
A condition of approval for the proposed minor building improvements requires the city review a use-and-occupancy plan and transportation-demand management measures, due to the heightened sensitivity about traffic and parking in Palo Alto, she said.
It is actually odd that the Maharishi Vedic Center was allowed to operate there, given that it was not considered a permitted use, according to French.
The 1956 city ordinance under which the building was permitted required one parking space per 300 square feet. The shared-parking arrangement with the shopping center for 16 spaces is still in effect. Levinsky said he doubted that in today's real-estate market, anyone would limit the building's occupants to 16.
"People who buy these buildings buy with the expectation of maxing out the space," he said.
If a problem does emerge, Levinsky said he hopes the council will consider that they voted for the project based on a different set of assumptions.
"It's possible there could be legal impacts. I hope the council will realize this was not what they intended and will look at ways to rectify the problem," he said.