http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2007/05/23/more-stalling-for-195-page-mill


Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 23, 2007

More stalling for 195 Page Mill

Architectural Review Board members annoyed at lack of progress

by Molly Tanenbaum

Developer Harold Hohbach's appearance at City Hall was an unwelcome déję vu for some last Thursday.

For the second time -- after a hearing one month earlier -- he failed to win the Architectural Review Board's final go-ahead for a three-story, 150,000-square-foot building at 195 Page Mill Road.

Board members said he has not yet incorporated changes to his plans that the City Council requested when approving the project last November.

Weary and aggravated, board members criticized Hohbach for taking too long to satisfy the council's conditions.

"There's just no other project we would have babied this much," Chair David Solnick said, sighing into the microphone.

The 150,000-square-foot building at Page Mill and Park Boulevard is set to contain research-and-development facilities beneath 84 apartments. The council narrowly approved the controversial project with a 5-4 vote after Planning and Community Environment Director Steve Emslie had rejected it because it is three times the size of allowed zoning in the area.

After taking two years to win the city's reluctant approval, Hohbach now needs the Architectural Review Board's consent on some final details -- dealing with landscaping, colors and pedestrian friendliness -- before he can begin building.

"We thought we were going to get approval today," Hohbach said, adding that he is in a hurry to start building because he is paying $70,000 a month of "interest on the land."

However, Solnick said he won't get there by ignoring the requirements set by the council.

"These conditions are not optional," Solnick said. "You don't get to pick and choose which ones you do."

Hohbach's proposal currently features alternating blocks of primary colors with greyish-white.

Hohbach said the building would "add a lot of color and pizzazz in that area."

Board member Heather Trossman called the use of primary colors "really fun," but others felt the color placement was "arbitrary" and that the greyish-white should be different.

Trossman, who was less disappointed with the project than some of her counterparts, also noted, "A lot of attention has gone into bringing liveliness to the streetscape."

Board members also found details of Hohbach's architectural drawings did not match up with each other.

"There were trees shown in one drawing that had been taken out in the other drawing," board member Judith Wasserman said, adding that Hohbach's three-dimensional, color rendering of the building did not match up with other drawings.

She called his submittal "the most confusing and inconsistent set I have seen up here." Wasserman and others were also irked by Hohbach's submittal of a building permit application and working drawings before receiving final approval from the board

Wasserman told Hohbach that his actions were an "unconscionable disregard of our purview."

Since the project's original city planner, Chris Riordan, resigned earlier this year to work in Saratoga, the Planning and Community Environment Department has been handling the work on a managerial level, said Amy French, manager of current planning.

"I could convince no other staff to take this project on," she said.

Further complicating the project is a lawsuit brought by two citizens, Bob Moss and Tom Jordan, against Hohbach and Palo Alto for exceeding zoning regulations and failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The suit, which challenges the city's approval of the project, is set to go to trial this September.

Deputy City Attorney Melissa Tronquet said that the lawsuit cannot stop Hohbach from beginning construction.

"From the city's perspective, it's an approved project," she said.

However, Moss and Jordan could file an injunction to halt construction until the suit is settled.

"All of the papers have already been written. Getting an injunction from the court is fast and cheap and we will do that," Moss said. "That project, I can guarantee you, is never going to be built."

Hohbach will come before the Architectural Review Board again on July 5. His project architect, Richard Campbell, promised to respond to the board's comments at that time.

At the end of last Thursday's hearing, a frustrated Wasserman looked over the dais at Hohbach's small, plywood model of his project and remarked, "I kind of like it in wood. Maybe you should carve the whole thing."

Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at mtanenbaum@paweekly.com.

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