http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/03/18/plans-for-gateway-building-in-downtown-palo-alto-move-ahead


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 18, 2011

Plans for 'gateway' building in downtown Palo Alto move ahead

Planning and Transportation Commission initiates zone change to enable development of five-story, mixed-use building near University Avenue Caltrain station

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's latest downtown project seeks to accomplish two things: blend seamlessly into the bustling, tech-savvy environment of University Avenue and stand out as a "gateway" structure that welcomes train commuters downtown.

The proposed glassy five-story building with four floors of office space, a café at street level and at least five residential units on the fifth floor would stand on the corner of Alma Street and Lytton Avenue, the site of a former Shell gas station. Because its height, at 64 feet, and density would exceed the city's regulations, the applicants are requesting changing the property's zoning to "planned community" (PC) — a designation that allows developers to exceed density laws and other zoning rules in exchange for "public benefits" to be negotiated.

Though PC-zone projects have become the subject of controversy in Palo Alto, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission voted 6 -1 Wednesday night to initiate the zone change, with Susan Fineberg dissenting.

Among the proposed public benefits of 101 Lytton Ave. (also known as 355 Alma St.) are a garden, public art, at least one unit of low-income housing and several charging stations for electric vehicles.

More importantly for Palo Alto officials, the building would fulfill the city's often-stated mission of encouraging dense developments near transit corridors. The new building would stand a block away from University Avenue and directly across the street from the downtown Caltrain station — the second busiest station on the Peninsula.

"If we are going to accommodate housing in the city — and we need to do it to some extent — this seems to be a more appropriate way to do it than locating it in areas like East Meadow Circle or things that have been redeveloped in the past decade," planning director Curtis Williams told the commission, alluding to a south Palo Alto neighborhood that has seen a recent influx of residential development.

Planning commissioners agreed that the plan isn't perfect and that the proposed public benefits aren't sufficient. They asked the applicants to consider putting in more housing units and retail space — suggestions that the applicants promised to integrate into their revised application.

"We talk a lot about housing near transit and compact design near transit and more sustainable uses of our precious land resources," Commissioner Eduardo Martinez said. "I think this is the opportunity for us to test the waters."

Martinez and commission Chair Samir Tuma both asked the applicants to increase the housing component to 10 or 12 units and to increase the number of below-market-rate units.

Large PC-zoned projects typically face heavy community scrutiny, particularly when the subject of public benefits arises. Recent PC projects, including Alma Plaza and the College Terrace Centre, faced significant opposition from land-use watchdogs and neighborhood residents and went through various revisions before earning the city's approval.

Several residents similarly criticized the "Lytton Gateway" development for not offering enough public benefits. Winter Dellenbach, a persistent critic of PC-zoned projects whose benefits fail to materialize, argued Wednesday that the applicants are proposing too many offices and too few apartments.

"It strikes me that never has so much development been tried to be justified by so little benefits and so little housing," Dellenbach said.

Bob Moss, a frequent critic of PC-zoned proposals, urged the commission to "kill this project." He cited other PC projects in which the applicant proposed benefits that never fully materialized. In several cases (including near Caffé Riace on Sheridan Avenue and near St. Michael's Alley on High Street), plazas intended for public use were partially or fully appropriated by area restaurants.

"Never has the city of Palo Alto punished a property owner for failing to comply with a PC requirement — never," Moss said.

Jerry Schwarz, who lives three blocks from the proposed development, took a different stance and said he would welcome the new building. He said he likes downtown's "vibrancy" and has no objections to buildings that exceed the 50-foot limit. The proposed 64-foot height is not too high, he said.

"I know I'm unusual, but I want to be sure people here understand it — there are people who live downtown because they don't object to height," Schwarz said.

The majority of the commission agreed that the opportunity to build a dense building so close to the train station is too good to pass up. The City Council has spoken consistently about the need to encourage development near transit centers.

"If not here, where? If not now, when?" Commissioner Daniel Garber asked.

Vice Chair Lee Lippert agreed and said the proposed building "has the potential to be the medium-sized incubator space for a company like Facebook." The social-media giant had its first headquarters on University Avenue, just a short stroll from the proposed building.

"The next start-up company that starts in Palo Alto should take this building" before moving to a larger space, Lippert said.

Jim Baer, a prominent downtown developer who is part of the application team, said the proposed project would cater to the young, tech-savvy companies — the next generation of Facebooks and Googles. Many employees live in San Francisco, he said, and the proposed building would allow them to easily commute to Palo Alto by Caltrain.

Baer said the building would also serve as a symbol of Palo Alto's status as an educational, technological and financial capital.

"It's kind of an epicenter," Baer said. "You know you have arrived in Palo Alto."

The developers are expected to revise their application and add more benefits before returning to the planning commission for further review and possible approval. The Architectural Review Board and the council would also have to approve the development before it could be built.

TALK ABOUT IT

Do you think the proposed Gateway project meets the city's goals of encouraging density near Caltrain stations? Share your opinions on Town Square on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by abraham, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2011 at 1:02 am

From the pictures I don't see any way to get to parking. A new building of this size must have underground parking? How do you get to it?

thx,


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2011 at 5:48 am

Someone posted in the other/older thread that there will be 100 spaces underground and 10 above ground.


Posted by Peter, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:25 am

Were are the trees in front of the building???


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

And this is an 'exception'....... and where do the exceptions stop? Will this be the first of the 'exceptions' and then 'there goes the neighborhood?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:42 am

I think locating 101 Lytton in North Palo Alto near the proposed HSR High Speed Rail Route is good use for a PC development. Locating dense PC projects, in North Palo Alto, that add to housing jobs and transit benefits, is helpful to young companies. Where locating projects in calm residential areas in South Palo Alto without High Speed Rail Transit is not relevant.
The North Palo Alto neighborhood where 101 Lytton, a dense PC project, is proposed has converging county-wide bus routes, HSR High Speed Rail, public foot traffic with people that will actually use PC benefits. Not sure about the drastic lack of setback and height issues for this project. The glass architecture of the project looks stunning.
Why place trees where sq footage is at a premium? Maybe the trees are in the inner atrium?


Posted by Thomas Paine IV, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

Great timing. It should be completed just in time to be demolished to widen the high speed rail right of way. Impossible you say! But that is exactly what is happening right now in Orange where a newly constructed housing/transit development is in the path of high speed rail. According to the rail authority it will be demolished via eminent domain.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

These pictures never seem to be a true rendition of the finished product.

Looking at recent buildings and developments, because there is lack of showing what is already there, we get a completely different idea of how the finished buildings will appear from the road, across the street, or anywhere else. We need to be able to see existing buildings in relation to the new one, the street, the path, etc. to
fully understand the impact.

The JCC never appeared to be as close to the street as it is, the Elks Building is too close to the street, The Rickey's Hyatt development, is right by the street, etc. etc. Why are we having such tall buildings right beside the street with parking and landscaping hidden away. It may be pleasant for the few minutes the users are parking, but it leads to a feeling of exclusivity, non-community, and even claustrophobia to anyone on the outside.

I for one would rather have the parking and trees on the outside so that we can see a little more space in front.

Otherwise, these buildings are not too bad.


Posted by Grin-And-Baer-It, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:34 am

> Baer said the building would also serve as a symbol of Palo Alto's
> status as an educational, technological and financial capital.

What gobbledygook! What does this building have to do with "education"? Is it going to be used as a school? And what does it have to do with Palo Alto's being "technological" or "a financial capital"?? What is this man talking about?

After watching this man operate for so many years in Palo Alto, it's hard to trust him to tell the truth about anything other than he expects to "make a killing" on whatever project he is pitching.


Posted by Peter H., a resident of University South
on Mar 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

This design looks like the commercial bldg on top of the new Walgreen's on University...which is to say...uninspired, cold and cheap. What exactly is 'high tech' about it? Looks like a design that is maximizes space and minimizes cost - hooray for the developer - too bad for residents of Palo Alto who love the charm of this town.






Posted by Money-Always-Talks-Loudest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

> This design looks like the commercial bldg on top of the new
> Walgreen's on University...which is to say...uninspired

Diana Diamond (DP) did an interesting piece of local commercial/big-building architecture in this morning's Post. She suggests, in passing, that the Architect had to defer to the wishes about the Hong Kong owners. She didn't provide any other details, but it might be interesting to dig into this buildings money, and find out who is calling the shots here.


Posted by Corrupt commissioners, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

The connection between the new Walgreen's and this one is Jim Baer. He is, or represents the developers on both.
EVERY commissioner had serious criticisms of the design. They ALL wanted major changes. Too big, change the design in major ways, etc.
But their MONEY interests won over their judgment and 6 out of 7 of them voted to give the developers the go-ahead. Unbelievable corruption.


Posted by Bob, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm

All that glass with HSR going up across the street and 200 trains a day.
Should be nice and noisy for the tenants.
If we have a local 7.0 quake everyone in the vicinity gets a glass coffin.


Posted by registered user, YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm

From pg. 9 of staff report: "The project includes 125 off-street parking spaces both below grade and at the surface....the project would be eligible to request a reduction....based upon site's location near transit.....
pg 7: parking is located behind building and below grade.

My comment:
I hope this project can help cease a problem that has infected the PA community that I call HSR hysteria - seems that everything within a few blocks will be condemned by HSRA according to this disease.

To access staff report, see agenda Web Link - NEW BUSINESS.
Public Hearing: 355 Alma Street*, click on
STAFF REPORT & ATTACHMENT
Web Link


Posted by Observer, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

What's the point of having zoning at all if the City is always granting exceptions to developers? This is what creates the infamous "Palo Alto process," because anyone observing can see that if you play the game right, you won't have to abide by the rules... so there are no real "rules" or transparencies...


Posted by member, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Perhaps we need some new blood on the Planning and Architectural Commissions to stop putting these new buildings right on the sidewalk. Do they not listen to the citizens in Palo Alto. We've done it with the Jewish Community Center and the apartments at the Hyatt site on El Camino. Ugly!!


Posted by ugly, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Again an ugly building beiing put up in the "old" downtown. Walgreens is ugly and the new apple bdlg looks ugly. Can't we have a team of architects with good taste. This buliding does not fit the downtown.


Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

crescent park neighbor.....Indeed it is hard to understand a commission that to a person points out the problems in a project, many deeming it without merit, then they approve it to go forward!? Susan Fineberg and Arthur keller are the voices of reason and moderation on this commission they are simply outnumbered by their colleagues.
It bears mentioning that city staff seem at times disinterested, biased in favor of the projects and sometimes inaccurate.

The entrance and exit to this facility will be on Lytton. If I lived in downtown north I would be very worried about cut thru traffic and parking on neighborhood streets. The employees, their guests and suppliers will likely end up parking on nearby streets.

The time to work out the kinks in these PC zones is before they are initiated not after, otherwise elements that are unsatisfactory become imbedded in the project and developers are loathe to let them go. This is what creates the so called lengthy "palo alto process" .

Hopefully this developer will heed the direction of the planning commission and we will soon see a much improved, better project for Palo Alto residents and a happy outcome for all.


Posted by Steven, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

When a gas station goes out of business, the old site can become a permanent blight that never gets replaced. Frankly, we should be thrilled to replace it. Large offices right next to a train station make tons of sense. Nearby noise is fine for an office, but annoying for a residence, so that's why I'd rather see lots of office space there rather than residences.


Posted by resident s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm

The building exceptions go on with North Palo Alto Buildings that are built close to the street at 325 Lytton and 800 High developments in North Palo Alto, and Stanford Avenue Developments.

The developers need the square footage and the developers are those that pay the taxes, and add to the city revenue by populating the city for business tax revenue. Thanks to proposition 13 it gives our North Palo Alto Residential Community a marked down voice when it comes to the City of Palo Alto hearing residents preferences for exceptions that allow developments to build so close to the sidewalk.

I look forward to the proposed HSR High Speed Rail and support a staion in North Palo Alto. It would be a shame if HSR is built and the business tax goes to Redwood City - while Palo Alto provides the right away the state now plans.


Posted by Dennis, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Just a little quibble with "Ugly" - given your position that Apple & Walgreens are both ugly, this newest proposal fits right in; 50 years from now people will be protesting the demolition of historic Palo Alto "Ugly" buildings.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Maybe they could use the site instead for a parking garage for high speed rail.


Posted by Money-Always-Talks-Loudest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

> When a gas station goes out of business, the old site can
> become a permanent blight that never gets replaced

This doesn't seem true at all. There have been several gas stations in South Palo Alto that have gone out of business, and have been replaced, one way or another.

There was a gas station on Alma at the Lucky/Albertson's store. It became parking lot.

There was a gas station at the corner of E. Charleston/Middlefield--it became a dry cleaners.

There was a gas station in Midtown--which has been torn down and is being replaced with some sort of building.

And this site in downtown already has a development plan in place.

Maybe it's true else where that gas stations sit idle forever, but land is too valuable in Palo Alto. Sadly, the truth doesn't seem to be as valuable as old gas station sites, however.


Posted by Corrupt commissioners, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

We need to rule out as commissioners people who make money off of land dealing and development. Like architects, real estate interests. They invariably give developers maximum profit and that accounts for the big monsters all over town and the astonishing recent ugliness.

Unbelievable corruption.


Posted by registered user, Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

My written comments to the Commission and this posting can be found at Web Link (alt format).

The Commission approved initiating the PC zoning even though the Commissioners said that they would not approve the project as submitted. The commissioners' directions to the applicant on how to make the project acceptable were inconsistent, often contradictory, not only between the different commissioners, but within individual commissioner's own statements. This was pointed out (by Fineberg) and acknowledged, but the Commission decided to let the developer proceed regardless. Fineberg and Keller advocated extending the hearing to a future date to allow the developer a chance to revise the proposal to incorporate their understanding of the Commission's direction, but the applicant rejected this.

With this approval, the developer's next steps is to conduct studies and develop detailed building plans, each of which is very expensive, and go through the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to produce final plans for the building _before_ coming back to the Commission for approval of the basic policy questions on which those plans are based. This is a well-known tactic of Palo Alto developers: Keep a project moving through the process without being responsive to direction from the City and then argue--successfully--that the City can't reject or amend it because they have spent too much time and money on it. I reminded the Commission of this very tactic in my comments, and Commission Chair Tuma told the applicant if they failed to suitably improve the project that the commission would reject it. I suspect that some of the commissioners might actually believe that this time they might actually do this (Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results).

The Commission _encouraged_ the developer to come back to them with revised plans for feedback before going to the ARB. However, the developer's representative made it abundantly clear during the meeting that he intends to make this a highly adversarial process by his belligerent treatment of comments from the public. For example, he told the Commission that I misrepresented the amount of pedestrian traffic at the site in my written comments, even though the numbers I used were from the traffic analysis that the developer submitted to the Commission and that were identified by page number in my comments. For example, the developer posits that the project will be attractive for software companies whose employees will want to commute from San Francisco. In my oral comments, I remarked that my experience in that type of start-up was that the train schedule outside of the rush hours was a major inconvenience for such people. Baer dismissed my experience saying that I was too old to understand people working at Facebook-type companies. (One start-up on Cal Ave had over 100 employees and I remember only 3 as using Caltrain, and they were quite memorable because their desire/need to get to the train was repeatedly disruptive in both meetings and meeting deadlines).

The list of purported "public benefits" in the Staff Report and the developer's submission are not to be taken seriously, and weren't. My written submission to the Commission (link at end) step through them and showed that they were either amenities for the building's occupants, things the developer would be expected to do, or trivialities. Some of the commissioners argued that since some of these amenities would not be officially restricted to the building's occupants, they could conceivably be used by a few members of the general public and hence constituted a public benefit. But one commissioner (Fineberg?) pointed out that a benefit for a select few members of the public was not what was meant by "public benefit"

Many of the commissioners seemed to regard the building itself as an adequate public benefit, that is, having a building that corresponded to their personal/professional architectural aesthetics as a "gateway" to greet commuters entering downtown from the Caltrain station. The developer attempted to disguise the impact of the 150-200 occupants of this building by considering only the impacts of the residents of the five one-bedroom apartments on the fifth floor. In my oral comments, I pointed out that despite this being close to transit, ABAG would still penalize Palo Alto for these jobs and that the subsequent housing _would_ increase the burden on Palo Alto schools. My observation was dismissed by a commissioner (Garber) by saying that ABAG doesn't track _individual_ projects (Disingenuous: ABAG tracks projects indirectly, through the calculations of total jobs in a city). Although various of the commissioners acknowledged the questionable future of Caltrain, their advocacy for this "gateway" seemed predicated on robust Caltrain service throughout the day and evening.

The developer and several of the commissioners said that this building was needed for the "next Google or Facebook (or Sun)" to be housed together rather than spread over multiple buildings, and it was acknowledged that as such companies became successful, they would move out of Palo Alto. At first, I thought that this was simply an emotional argument directed at civic pride. However, there _seemed_ to be a more substantial underlying argument that the prestige conferred by being the original site of such companies was a positive influence for Palo Alto's overall business climate, maintaining it as a prestige address for which other companies would pay premium rents. The way that some of the commissioners responded to the few evocative phrases suggested that this might have been part of their private discussions with the developer. However, since this argument was not made publicly, there was no chance to debate its validity. My experience in start-ups was that at that size (100-200), the priority was conserving cash and the last thing you wanted to do was pay premium rents for a flashy building at a high-profile location.


Posted by housing, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Luckily Addison has tons of room to accommodate the additional kids.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm

The 5 story building is too large, too high, too unattractive and inappropriate for the location. We need more housing close to Cal Train, but the proposed design and height are not compatible for the area. The developer has many unattractive buildings on University Avenue. The powers-to-be are permitting ugly buildings through-out our City, including the Jewish Center on Charleston. We can do much better in this technology and academic stronghold.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Douglas Moran's report of the P&T Commission meeting is shocking -- and I thought I'd seen and heard EVERYTHING in Palo Alto politics.

Re startups, I have LOTS of startup experience and I concur with Doug's comments: (1) saving money is essential, so companies typically start in a low-rent district and (2) hours are long and don't match train or bus schedules.

Jim Baer's comments, as quoted in the Weekly, are self-serving, pompous and utterly absurd: "Baer said the building would also serve as a symbol of Palo Alto's status as an educational, technological and financial capital. 'It's kind of an epicenter,' Baer said. 'You know you have arrived in Palo Alto.'"

This simply emphasizes that Palo Alto is the epicenter of ego, entitlement, and self-congratulation.

The commissioners are certainly not acting in the best interests of the public.


Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I live near the proposed project. It is ugly, out of scale, and it's importance over inflated by a money-hungry developer. We will have to live with this cold, hard building, and deal with the traffic generated by it.

What is the point of a city government that is completely unresponsive to the needs of the community it is supposed to 'serve? It appears as though Palo Alto exists for the city government's pleasure and enrichment. Clearly, the City doesn't listen to its residents.

The proposed building is not a necessary addition to our neighborhood. It would be a liability. It is not a building design where human beings can live and work. It is a cage.

Oh, and with all of that glass, how do they plan to efficently cool it when the afternoon sun hits, which it does heavily in that location?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Everyone has different tastes when it comes to design. You can legislate taste.

However, to characterize the corner of Lytton and Alma as a neighborhood is a little funny. It's downtown PA, not a neighborhood.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

My bad! "You CAN'T legislate taste". Oops.


Posted by registered user, Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm

One issue that was mentioned in the Staff Report but that was not considered at the PTC meeting is that Downtown is rapidly approaching its development growth limit and this proposed building uses two-thirds of what remains. While this limit could be raised, the evaluation of the impacts on the Stanford Hospital expansion demonstrated traffic problems that would be hard to mitigate (the hospital is not part of downtown, so it changes are not counted against the limit -- it just stress the infrastructure in Downtown).


Posted by Corrupt commissioners, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Cliches like You Can't Legislate Taste contribute nothing to the discussion. Can't legislate cliches either.
No one is legislating taste, this is about what people want built in their neighborhood and whether powerful developers get to build huge buildings and make huge profits without obeying the zoning, and whether they have the power to get a city to change the law to suit their grandiose selfserving wishes.
If we could legislate taste there would be fewer ugly big buildings in Palo Alto.


Posted by Money-Always-Talks-Loudest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2011 at 7:57 pm

> Downtown is rapidly approaching its development growth limit

Don't understand. What is this? Where is it documented?

Can anyone clarify?


Posted by registered user, Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm

On the development growth limit, it was mentioned on page 10 of the Staff report (Web Link). I was involved in issues that had some overlap, but not enough that I know enough to explain the history or the details.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Corrupt: You obviously missed my point. There are many people on this thread who are complaining about the appearance of the building - "ugly", etc. So my reference to legislating taste is that you cannot tell the developer what his/her building should look like.


Posted by Corrupt commissioners, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I did not miss your point, but to say that people have different opinions about what is ugly, is true, but irrelevant.
Of course the developer designs his building and sets the general parameters but the Planning Commission can and does suggest changes, the Architectural Board suggests changes, the City Council suggests changes and can require them.
The public expresses its views and sometimes a developer even listens.
In this case ALL the Planning Commissioners made major suggestions about the height, the location of the open space, the opening to the parking garage, the type of retail they could have, the concept of what a "gateway" should look like, the number of apartments, the number of BMRs (only 1 in this design) and much more.
In spite of so many major criticisms (these are just the ones I remember) they voted to let them pursue the Planned Community zone, and made it OPTIONAL that they return to the Planning Commission with a revised plan.
It doesn't pass the smell test. Something behind the scenes is at work, (not too hard to guess what it is).


Posted by Money-Always-Talks-Loudest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

> It doesn't pass the smell test.
> Something behind the scenes is at work

At a minimum, it would seem that there is an attack on the 50' limit.

And then there is this nebulous "development growth limit". Both of these things stand in the way of more development, and more profit.

There just is no excuse for topping the 50' limit. So .. why would the so-called "commissioners" not be pressing for adherence to the zoning codes? Well, why not look at the occupations of those on the Commission? How many of them are involved with real estate, or property development?


Posted by Mayfield Child, a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm



Do we REALLY need another Nose Bleeding tower in Palo Alto???? Bad enough it is over the limit but what about the air rights of nearby buildings who will be in the shadow? (The sun being blocked from their property...........)

And the noise. Ok, ONE low income unit. O~BOY! Better rent that one out to a deaf person who doesn't mind the noise. It will probably be an undersized unit just as most of the low income units in Palo Alto are.

Somehow the developers have been getting away with cutting corners on the BMR's and HUD units. Even when the Terman Park Apartments were given the go ahead, fliers were sent out to prospective tenants, showing all units had air conditioners. HA! AFTER they were built, the man who designed the building admitted that the project "ran out of money" for that segment and hence, they were never put in. (That incident was just for starters....)

Just like the building that was replaced at Page Mill and El Camino, you still have a hard time seeing WHO may be around the corner..and the intersection of Lytton and Alma should be kept free and building kept a good distance back from the sidewalk.
Thanks to Bob Moss and Winter D. for standing up and telling things as they REALLY are in our town. Hopefully the squeek in the wheel will get the grease...
And yes, I remember the gas stations..the one at Alma Plaza used to hand out free lunch bags with large yellow smiley faces on them............those were the days, eh!


Posted by Adrian, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

As a lifelong resident of Palo Alto, a grad student in urban planning, and someone starting out my career in development - I've got to say that I've become extraordinarily dissatisfied with PA's response to development projects of any kind. Not to mention the poor discourse surrounding any project (ad hominem attacks on "money-hungry" developers, PT commish "always" allows exceptions).

Development is the process of anticipating future demand for housing, offices, industry or retail - and taking enormous risks to create a building or site without any promises. Because of these risks, payoffs can be quite high - but it's never assured.

PC or zoning adjustments are a necessary part of the planning process - if every structure followed the zoning code to the key, you would get a terribly bland, uniform, and unimaginative environment. I don't think anyone wants that.

Zoning adjustments act as a relief valve to allow individual projects a bit of leeway - in the case of the PC change, these adjustments are permitted in exchange for public amenities. It's a balancing act.

Finally, I'd like to point out that without development, Palo Alto will literally wither on the vine. I love that Palo Alto is a vital, energetic, entrepreneurial community - but I often worry about "stick in the mud" attitudes which fight any and all changes. I was terribly sad to see JJ&F leave college terrace because their mixed-use, higher density proposal was not allowed by the City. So now, we've got a 2nd rate grocer, and an old building - instead of a new, mixed use (and income) community next to the University and near CalTrain.

Anyhoo, those are some of my thoughts. I hope that people will stop bashing development for the sake of it. Property development is an ongoing, iterative process - and it should involve the community. It's also extraordinarily important if Palo Alto intends to remain a competitive, livable, and interesting community.


Posted by Corrupt commissioners, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Adrian, there is not one sentence in your message that I agree with. Not one. Most of your assertions are untrue as well. I think you have not been following development here, or the votes of the Planning Commission - for years.
Perhaps you would understand better what is going on if you looked at the amount of development in Palo Alto for the last 10 years or so.
Your statement that obedience to the zoning would create a bland, uniform, and unimaginative city is utter nonsense. Look at what we are getting with variances to the zoning, overly big unattractive stuctures.
Developers have been getting "exceptions" and "variances" all the time! It seems that now that isn't enough. They are asking for changes to the Comprehensive Plan.


Posted by registered user, YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Apr 1, 2011 at 9:15 am

Regarding downtown growth 'limits' - when the 'cap' is reached, council/planning commission can re-evaluate it. Also, I think the cap may apply to commercial only.


Posted by registered user, YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Apr 1, 2011 at 9:25 am

@ Corrupt, you complain that " They (developers) are asking for changes to the Comprehensive Plan."
I was looking at the staff report - it includes references to the comp. plan (see pg. 39) that this project conforms to, including: Program H-1: Increasing housing density near transit stations. (pg. 47/69).
Frankly, this project conforms to the general plan far more than a small service station.