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Controversial plan for office building ekes out approval

Original post made on Aug 22, 2014

Despite a chorus of protests from residents, Palo Alto's architectural board on Thursday approved a new three-story building that will go up next to Sarah Wallis Park and inject more commercial space into the rapidly changing business district around California Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 22, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (41)

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Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

Good fist step to the city simply honoring the existing zoning. For those who are certainly going to follow this post with "no growth/change" positions, go after the zoning, not the applicant who is simply following the rules. And, to those in the no growth/change in Palo Alto, the center of the technology universe, it's coming, so learn to deal with it. Putting your hand up to the inevitable flood might feel good but is not helpful.


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Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:36 am

Ugly, ugly ugly. Welcome to greedy, grasping and generic Palo Alto.


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Posted by kim S.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:47 am

Of course all this development is happening after the decision to remove two lanes from California Avenue resulting in even more cut-through traffic and parking on the nearby streets.


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Posted by fed up
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

naturally what else are these idiots supposed to do? their only goal is to ruin palo alto. and line their own pockets. good bye palo alto.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:02 am

The article says nothing about parking allotments. But we know nobody ever drives in Palo Alto and parking's never a problem.

Unfortunately, I had to give up meeting friends from out of town for lunch in the Cal Ave area due to parking problems where my friends would miss their doctor appointments since they'd spend our lunch time endlessly circling looking for parking.

And no,one friend can't bike here from Napa.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:05 am

This development will dwarf and substantially enshadow the relatively small structure next to it. That is an outrage. Note how the architect heeded the developer's wish to maximize profit by making the proposed structure boxy and cover most of the land parcel. Another insensitive decision by the architecture commission. I'll bet that the three members who voted for the structure didn't think seriously about its effects on the people next door in the condos. They just look at the architecture. They seem to be masters of decontextualization who don't pay any attention to whether a new building will fit well into the existing neighborhood. Note inadvertently damning quote by the developer re the decks overlooking the existing residences: "You don't end up with huge parties on these decks. They're not that big..." Sickening. Business rules Palo Alto, not the residents. Palo Alto proceeds apace with its apparent insane obsession with becoming more and more dense and the accompanying maladies: ever more traffic, traffic congestion, parking hassles, and frustrated drivers. We all know that the area between California Avenue and Page Mill is already extremely densely packed, with cars parked on every square foot of street curb. But don't look for that in the idealized architectural drawing reproduced in the article. In short, another good day at the bank for developer Minkoff, another project approved that will lead to the further degradation of the quality of life in Palo Alto.


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Posted by MD from TO
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:12 am

MD from TO is a registered user.

My in-laws live in PA-I live in Ventura county. The next time someone from NorCal mentions to me that they "would never live in SoCal-it's too congested". I will just laugh and continue to enjoy my ocean view here. PA will now be just another over-crowded, over-priced, "yuppiefied" urban area.


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Posted by BS from NC
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

Once again we hear the typical comments--greedy developers, palo alto is being ruined, there is no parking, there is too much traffic. None of these comments are based on any facts. Some people are so eager to post these claims that they religiously read the weekly even though they live hundreds of miles away.
Oh and BTW, this building is being built exactly to the zoning rules. The developer is not asking for any exemptions or changes.


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Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 22, 2014 at 11:46 am

People who live in a multi-story condo are protesting a multi-story building next door? Did anyone look up the protests there must have been on construction of their own building? It "ruined the neighborhood", right?

For decades the towns on the peninsula have played the same game. All sorts of commercial construction with freeway access and little residential construction. It was someone else's problem where the workers lived. Housing soared in price. That cynical scheme worked well for a long time, but has now run its course.

I recall reading that over 40% of the WORLD's venture capital is spent in extended Silicon Valley. Lots of luck.

The real losers are the people, perhaps older, who have low present incomes. To survive they do have to leave the entire area, perhaps California, with that house price as capitalization. If they are renters still here who can't capitalize a far away move they run the risk of homelessness.

Young people growing up here who will only have low or middle incomes will have to leave also. Their parents will have to sell out at some point to capitalize retirement elsewhere and also have a stake in kiting home prices.

What goes around comes around is some sort of iron law in life.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm

The builder is following all zoning rules and is not asking for any waivers. Underground parking is included with the building.

If the condo residents didn't understand that the property next to them could be redeveloped (as a mix-use 3-story property) when they bought their homes, who's fault is that? Certainly not the property owner's or the developer's.

This is the classic case of NIMBY. The proposed building is legal in every sense of the word. The condo owners can have their multi-story building, but no one else can - even if it the new building follows all of the rules.

Priceless.


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Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm

We now understand what the illegal felling of the trees that lined California Avenue foretold... a plan by a few California Avenue landowners and developers to increase the value of their real-estate by remaking California Avenue into a mini University avenue with the help of public funds.

Palo Alto is a plantation run by developers, the citizens are the crop, and the retail chains harvest the bounty.


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Posted by sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

"The builder is following all zoning rules and is not asking for any waivers. Underground parking is included with the building.

If the condo residents didn't understand that the property next to them could be redeveloped (as a mix-use 3-story property) when they bought their homes, who's fault is that? Certainly not the property owner's or the developer's.

This is the classic case of NIMBY. The proposed building is legal in every sense of the word. The condo owners can have their multi-story building, but no one else can - even if it the new building follows all of the rules.

Priceless."

See, in my mind a City would have the discretion to do something when all the written rules are causing overall cumulative impacts which may need to be reviewed and if it is necessary the developer would have to be patient to work with the CIty.

This is developer hardball directly with residents. They started with an elephant and in compromise cut out an ear. Has the CIty done it's job to look out for the residents?

The "public benefit" is not very clear here. Can someone describe it in more detail?

Also what is the threat about telling the residents don't appeal because you'll end up with something worst - can someone explain how that works?

The developer can actually go back and re-do the plans for something less or not approved by the ARB?


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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:06 pm

"And, to those in the no growth/change in Palo Alto, the center of the technology universe, it's coming, so learn to deal with it."

"Coming" is not exactly correct. It already came years ago. Are all companies entitled to locate in Palo Alto? Should it be Palo Alto's mandate to accommodate all the companies that want the prestige of being located within this city? And if not, what's the cut off?


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:46 pm

To the neighbors:

Question you should ask yourselves: Is this building really compliant with zoning, or is the PTC just saying it is?

Because we found during the Maybell debates that City Council considered anything that technically was under zoning as fair game even if it was really allowable, meaning, they pushed the max possible under zoning even if it wasn't consistent with the comp plan or the exact circumstances if there was a range under zoning.

So, you need to read not just the zoning rules but also the Comprehensive Plan for any policies or rules that may apply. Does the new development comply? If not, you may have other recourse. Since Palo Alto is a charter City, you can't just take them to court for lack of consistency with the comp plan, but, if the property has to be technically subdivided in order to allow for the residential units (I don't think so, just making an example, but it's worth checking), then the plan has to have comp plan consistency. If it doesn't, or if City employees cherry pick the comp plan for only those things that favor the development, then if you have properly entered your evidence in the subdivision process, you may be able to go to court to get the plan thrown out.

Zoning isn't the only rule to provide for appropriate land use rules. City Manager has admitted employees cherry pick the comp plan, and City Council has long decided to ignore ranges and conditions in the zoning code and just claim every maximum is allowable. City Council has been claiming the max under the zoning code is always allowable, and that's just wrong. It's time we sued them over that!

What is the exact zoning designation there? Will the builder have to subdivide? Is the project consistent with the comp plan and do you have any recourse if it isn't? Maybell neighbors got help from a good land use attorney. You can too. If you sued to stop development until cumulative impacts of all the OVER development to date have been assessed and dealt with, including water usage, we will have your backs.


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Correction

Because we found during the Maybell debates that City Council considered anything that technically was under zoning as fair game even if it WASN'T really allowable, meaning, they pushed the max possible under zoning even if it wasn't consistent with the comp plan or the exact circumstances if there was a range under zoning.


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2014 at 5:53 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

There's no controversy. Just a bunch of NIMBYs who live in a area zoned for mixed use complaining.

Calling a 3 story building oversized for the Cal Ave area is laughable. In fact, I called it undersized. Maybe we should knock down Birch Court and upsize it appropriately.


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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 6:09 pm

As is happening with 385 Sherman, property owners in the California Avenue are completely entitled to replace their one and two story buildings with much more profitable three and four story offices.

A few years ago our Council voted to approve rezoning of the California Avenue area for dense office development. Council member Greg Scharf, a proponent of adding "vibrancy" with new and denser development, will be delighted to see his vision for California Avenue becoming a reality with the first of the new taller office building (between Birch and the station) almost completed. The council's stated goal was to transform California Avenue into a second University Avenue. Although it will be sad to see much of the existing shops and restaurants being priced out in favor of more upscale establishments and chains who will be able to afford the increased rents in these brand new buildings.


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Posted by JM
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 6:16 pm

385 Sherman will not go before the Planning and Transport Commission as it was approved by the Planning Department as conforming to the existing zoning. Permission from the PTC is only required when a building does not conform.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Here's what I see - an office building being replaced by a mixed use building, using current zoning and providing parking. This proposed 3 story building is next to another 2 and 3 story residential building and a park. There are a few decks on the building that will overlook a park. The building itself is an interesting mix of materials and is not another glass box with prison bars (sorry, couldn't resist that one).

So the building follows zoning, provides parking and is not a glass box and STILL we are complaining? To the residents of Birch Court -yes, it stinks to have construction next to you and you will loose some privacy. That happens daily all over Palo Alto, one story buildings are replace by 2 story structures. The builder will plant trees to help preserve your privacy.

I'm not sure the loss of a little privacy is worth "deep anguish". There are existing 2, 3 and 4 story structures all over the California Ave area. The existing contraction and congestion on Cal ave is not the fault of the buildings owner, nor should he pay the price for it. He's following the rules, stop complaining. Ask for things that will help (like more screening, trees, etc.) don't ask for a perfectly legal project to be denied for no valid reason.


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:08 pm

@palo alto resident,

The rules were changed recently, and we've had a lot of development without regard to what our infrastructure can handle, nor how it changes the character of our area which we ARE entitled as citizens to protect in land use regulations. So, you're basically saying that just because everyone else got away with being on the overdevelopment bandwagon, the residents should never say enough is enough?

There is actually a big difference between 2 story and 4 story, even between 3 story and 4 story.

Whether this gets built or not, I for one hopes it makes the residents over there cranky enough to start the movement that finally puts a moratorium on development until we do some bigger picture planning. This Council has been a disaster.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:31 pm

@ Tired of overdevelopment - no one is "getting away with over development" in this case. The owner is building a new building within zoning. You may not like it, but it is not overdevelopment - it is legal development.

I totally agree that we need to make some big decision regarding infrastructure, but this particular project is within the rules. If you don't like the rules, get them changed, but after all the developers that are truly trying get away with something, lets not vilify someone who is willing to work with current zoning and also is trying to appease the neighbors.


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Posted by helene
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Let me get this, a new larger commercial building near California Ave. One of many to come in the future.
City busy eliminating lanes on California Ave. Where will all these cars go when California only has two lanes?
Perhaps they will be driving on the new wider sidewalks? This is such backward thinking. I want my old Palo Alto
town back with its decent people and good values. Enough building!


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:00 am

@palo alto resident,
What's the exact zoning on this address? Neighbors? Have you looked it up? Have you combed the comprehensive plan? If you think something doesn't seem right, you're probably correct.

This Council and City staff regularly claim things are within the rules even when they aren't. For example, RM-15 is a transition zone with 8-15 units per acre, depending. Council never applies any "depending" clauses, they just go with 15 units per acre even when the rules say it's NOT appropriate. Then they multiply the 15 units by whatever density bonuses they can get away with. They end up with many times what really is within zoning but claim it is. Neighbors finally got wise to them so they're now trying to make a minimum density in RM-15 in the new comp plan, which is a total sham.

This building looks like it belongs on Hanover Street or Page Mill, not California district. That alone may mean it doesn't comply with the rules.

Neighbors: you may have recourse. Realize, this City Council will not listen no matter what you do or say. Pool your money and have someone in the neighborhood hire a very good land use attorney. Find out what we can all do in this town in order to use the grand jury report, and litigation if necessary, to stop this overbuilding. Then get involved in the election. Don't count on others to do it for you.

Maybe the neighbors are right, maybe they're wrong. It's their neighborhood, though. If they are right, they shouldn't just try to keep talking to the hand at City Hall, they need to force their hand. The first rule is, question everything. One of the most popular tactics of this Council is to try to claim they couldn't help it, and often, it's a lie. This City Council will tell you whatever they think will keep the citizens from stopping whatever they want, staff have admitted to cherry picking the comprehensive plan for whatever they want. This project may very well NOT comply with the rules.

Get informed. Get involved.

Web Link


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Posted by Tired of Overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

""Although this is a dramatic change in neighborhood,"

This statement alone may make this proposal not fit within the rules.


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Posted by sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

"Popp took the opposite stance and said the new building "creates massing and orientation" in a neighborhood that he described as "a hodgepodge of really nondescript and non-elegant buildings.""

I think a hodgepodge of really nondescript non-elegant buildings a good thing

Off-the-shelf shiny glossy office massing is not elegant imho.

Does the comprehensive plan have "elegant" on the criteria? Even if it did, why would the call be left to 3 ARB appointed members to make the call?


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

@tired of overdevelopment - The exact zoning at this address is CC2. Here's the definition (I've included CC because CC2 builds on CC).

"Community Commercial [CC]
The CC community commercial district is intended to create and maintain major commercial centers accommodating a broad range of office, retail sales, and other commercial activities of community-wide or regional significance. The CC community commercial district is intended to be applied to regional/community commercial centers identified by the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan.

Community Commercial (2) Subdistrict [CC(2)]
The community commercial (2) (CC(2)) subdistrict is intended to modify the site development regulations of the CC community commercial district, where applied in combination with such district, to allow site specific variations to the community commercial uses and development requirements in the CC district.


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Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Not good. We can still shut this down at council level. After election, we will replace those who voted 4 approval. A be Palo Alto era begins and it does not include any more density.


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Posted by Floyd R. Turbo
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2014 at 12:58 am

Let's put this to a referendum like Maybell.


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:54 am

Palo alto resident,
Thanks for the info, it should be useful to the neighbors. (Neighbors: it's just a start...)

Palo Alto Native,
You should try to do the usual appeals, but you are unlikely to be successful. You should do them anyway, read on...

Floyd,
I don't think you can put it to a referendum like Maybell, because there is no ordinance, but you can probably do something similar that will be even better. A referendum isn't the right thing because it deals with setting aside an ordinance -- at Maybell, the City Council confused the rezoning with the project itself as a political tactic to bias the ballot, but there never was a vote about whether senior housing could go there, for example, only about whether the ordinance to change the height limit, density, daylight plane, lack of parking, etc would go into effect.

But you may have other recourse. If Palo Alto were not a charter city -- or if like most charter cities, following the comprehensive plan had more teeth -- you could probably take your case to a judge and get the development stopped if it was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.

You may still be able to take your case to a judge and just get the development stopped, that is I think what usually happens in other places when a development violates the comprehensive plan. If the property has to go through any kind of subdivision in order to put in the residential units, or some other legal procedure, there may be an opportunity to have a judge stop it there if it's inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. That's what neighbors did in the Glenbrook extension, they stopped an overdevelopment plan at the subdivision level.

The most decisive thing you can do is probably to start an INITIATIVE to drop the zoning in the whole area back to what it was prior to Council's recent increase around Cal Ave. It's too late to do a referendum to put aside that ordinance, but if you and your neighbors put together an initiative, you would likely get broad support in the community.

A referendum allows citizens to set aside an ordinance enacted by Council, and Council can decide whether to accept the will of the people or put it to vote to try to enact the ordinance, which they did in Measure D. An initiative allows citizens to basically enact their own ordinance, so if it's too late to do a referendum, you could just do an initiative instead.

I do not know the best thing to do, you and your neighbors know your neighborhood, and have a good understanding of what would hurt the character of the neighborhood and cause a huge disruption in the quality of your lives. If that's what's really happening here, you are the ones to judge, and you do have recourse.

Is the project really within zoning and meeting all the land use requirements? What recourse do you have with a development that is out of scale with the neighborhood or inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, or otherwise changes the character of your neighborhood?

I don't know what your recourse is, I'm only guessing. But neither did anyone at Maybell.

What Maybell neighbors did was realize the development was too big for the neighborhood and would almost certainly lead to further densification of that corridor, so (after it was obvious no one planning it was listening) they decided to seek information from a good land use attorney, as well as other experts like a traffic engineer. Sadly, they didn't realize what was going on with that enormous hotel next to Hobee's first or that would probably have been referended instead.

You may have to go through the City appeals process anyway in order to get all of your concerns on record in the event of further legal action. The only way to know the best way to go is to consult with a good land use attorney.

Neighbors at Maybell shared their concerns with each other early on and pooled money to hire a land use attorney. Attorneys are not going to want to be hired by a large group of people, in other words, you'll have to have a few people who hire the attorney and enter into the legal relationship. The best neighbors to do this are those who already know how to work with attorneys to be very efficient with their time. It helps if everyone is willing to donate, but if you're really serious, it also helps if there are a few neighbors willing to make a larger commitment up front.

Another thing the neighbors at Maybell did was immediately reach out to people like Bob Moss with long institutional memories, and ask what could be done. They also simply asked City Council, former mayors, the then head of planning, etc., about what the process was. They didn't get a complete answer from them, but all information was good. But no one in the City is going to do anything that reverses any overdevelopment even if it is changing your neighborhood as the planning commission seems to have admitted here. You will have to take matters into your own hands like the neighbors did at Maybell.

However, if you do that, it's a good time for it, as all of these issues are coming to a head right now with the upcoming election. You don't have time to get an initiative on the ballot for this election, but if you start collecting signatures soon, you can certainly get the matter put before the Council and see if they adopt the initiative to reduce the zoning back to what it was (or something your neighbors deem acceptable), or if they put it to an expensive vote. You would have a lot of leverage since Scharff and Shepherd are seeking re-election. You may even be able to get help and advice from PASZ people because a larger development initiative at this time would keep these issues on the front burner through the election. It's also probably the greatest time ever to collect your signatures, I'm guessing if you got together a good, well-supported initiative and had it well vetted by a land use attorney and government law firm, you could get your signatures in a matter of days with all the networks of citizens now around these issues.


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Posted by Tired of overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 4:05 am

Oh, I almost forgot.

If you put forward an initiative soon, and the developer doesn't have a vested interest in the project yet, the existing development plan may have to wait until the initiative is qualified. I don't know, but again, you'd have to get good legal advice.

But don't let the City employees tell you what you are looking at. All the way up to the head of planning, they told the Maybell neighbors that the development there was going forward, it was a done deal, and there was nothing they could do.

If you don't want to see Cal Ave turned into that, then now is probably a good place to draw the line. You will probably find support across a broad section of town, including the folks over at Maybell. The City Council could have bought the orchard in a noncompetitive sale, to save all those established trees, just even to allow the neighbors to raise the money, but they didn't, out of what can only be interpreted as pure spite. That was not lost on the neighbors. If you want help to battle overdevelopment and are willing to take on a larger issue, you will find help.


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Posted by MD from TO
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2014 at 5:39 pm

MD from TO is a registered user.

To BS from NC-
Like the way you are disputing comments about over-crowding and congestion. You don't like my comment because I live "hundreds of miles away" - my statement about NorCal folks commenting that "SoCal is too congested" is laughable now. You certainly don't know the "facts" either. Every time I drive up to PA to visit in-laws, I'm amazed at all of the downtown traffic and congestion. Obviously, your agenda is more development, no matter where it is-NorCal or SoCal. Very sad to see that PA is becoming like the San Fernando Valley (SoCal) and downtown LA.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm



Why can't we replace a one-story with a one-story?


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Posted by Tired of Overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 24, 2014 at 8:34 pm

@neighbor,
In parts of some neighborhoods, there is what's called a single-story overlay, which residents adopted for themselves and which anyone who buys in has to abide by.

If you don't have one of those, there is no reason you can't, subject to other restrictions.

Going 3- or 4-story is another issue, though. I wish we could do more 2-story overlay zones...


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:27 am

I am curious as to how does one write an initiative to overrule a committee approval a new building that meets all and every building requirement for the neighborhood? Since there are no waivers involved, what is the process?...this isn't the same as Maybell...where the CC granted variances to the local zoning. Thanks.


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Posted by Tired of Overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,
Because the building doesn't meet every requirement for the neighborhood, it may (havent double checked always do that) meet basic zoning, but that does not mean it meets every requirement. Zoning Commissioners specifically said:
"In opposing the 385 Sherman plan, Gooyer and Lew both took the position, shared by many neighbors, that even after the latest design revisions, the project remains simply too big for the neighborhood. ...," Gooyer said. "I think the building is too large; it's too close; it's overpowering to the residential uses adjacent to it. ... "

In most Cities, not meeting the Comprehensive Plan, which Commissioners already admit this one doesn't, is enough to get an approval tossed out in court. It's less clear in a charter city. However, if residents come forward with an initiative that addresses a larger development issue, it could retroactively apply to this property if the developer doesn't have a vested interest yet, which clearly they don't. So, the neighbors would need to move quickly, but if they came forward with a specific initiative dropping the zoning back closer to what it was before the recent up zoning, then the initiative could apply to that project. (It's my understanding that was one of the things residents would have done at Maybell if they had lost the referendum.)

Putting forward an initiative to address a development issue could garner broad support across the city but also solve the problems of specific development to which it applies in process. That's what's happening in Menlo Park right now.

Anyway, the point is, neighbors who want to draw the line at Cal Ave being turned into a massively developed urban district like Univ have an opportunity to stop it right here. If they do an initiative to do with zoning that drops the zoning so that this building doesnt comply, then the building would have to be reduced if the developer did not yet have a vested interest. If the reason for the initiative has to do with council actions that violate the comp plan, (or maybe anyway), neighbors may even be able to get an injunction against further actions that vest the project, however, that may also not be necessary, when a developer tried to do that pre-emptively, in court precedent, he lost both the case and the work he did.

So you see, residents have lots of recourse and if they look at larger issues, may be able to get support from others around town. They need to act, though, and seek actual l legal advice from at least one, maybe two (for different perspectives) land use attorneys.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

I would respectfully suggest that the neighbors' personal opinions about design revisions and/or "too big for the neighborhood" are not going to hold up in court.

They are going to have to point to specific zoning or code issues that are either ignored or waived by the city. In other words, they are going to have to prove that the city cannot permit the project because it doesn't meet the building requirements for that address.

An example that could possibly be put on the ballot is the city approval of the sub-standard fire lane width for the upcoming Stanford housing project. The city granted a waiver - this can be defeated at the ballot box if there are enough supporting the initiative.

The Maybell/Measure D was an emotional issue for some. But the legal angle was simple - the city approved a density waiver, a parking waiver and a height waiver...and it was approved by the CC because it required a vote. The vote back (no matter your POV) was that the residents disapproved of the waivers granted.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Sherman Avenue project does not require a vote or any approval at the CC level. The ARB reviews design factors and they certainly have a say on supporting waivers (which for the most part have to be approved by the CC). If the ARB approves the design - it moves forward. I don't think the ARB can say anything about square footage if the size does not exceed the limits for the lot/zone/code.

But this is why I asked my question. What is the legal angle in an initiative that seeks to overturn a permit approval for a building (in theory - from what has been presented in the Weekly), that meets all city requirements without a waiver?

My two cents: I think the neighbors have to first appeal the ARB decision to the CC. They should do this before considering other actions such as a lawsuit or an initiative.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm

It seems like the most vocal residents opposing this project live in the adjacent condo complex. Which is 2 - 4 stories tall. Why is it ok for their building to be 4 stories, but 385 Sherman can't be 3 stories?


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Posted by sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2014 at 7:32 pm

palo alto resident,

"It seems like the most vocal residents opposing this project live in the adjacent condo complex. Which is 2 - 4 stories tall. Why is it ok for their building to be 4 stories, but 385 Sherman can't be 3 stories?"

I'll venture with an answer.

If I were a 1st, and 2nd floor resident, I wouldn't exactly be happy about any amount going up over me (certainly the first floor people have it the worst), but it doesn't sound like the residents are appealing height. Does it have daylight plane?

If I were on the third, or fourth floor, depends on what I will have to look at, and who is looking at me.



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Posted by sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm

I don't live adjacent to the property by the way.


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Posted by Tired of Overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:55 pm

"My two cents: I think the neighbors have to first appeal the ARB decision to the CC. They should do this before considering other actions such as a lawsuit or an initiative."

I agree with you. They may even have to do this if they are going to do anything else. But, when has Council really overturned something like this on appeal? They're only going to dig in on the arguments made for it now, hoping to demoralize the neighbors.

The Maybell neighbors had a motto to hope for the best but plan for the worst. They hoped to get the Council to set aside the ordinance and set up a working group to resolve differences, and went through a lot of effort to go through the official political process - and although I heard most already knew the Council wouldn't change their minds, everyone had been hopeful and it still felt bad when they didn't feel like they were heard through that process. City Council seemed to think the neighbors were making decisions based on Council response, but my understanding is that a whole series of steps had already been planned, including what to do if they had to go to referendum and even if they lost a referendum.

The point is, the neighbors could do a lot to stop what's happening to Cal Ave now, if they get involved. They first need to understand their rights, what they can do legally and politically, and then plan out how to get there. In this climate, they will get a lot of help with the right initiative.

I frankly hope they do turn it into an initiative to reverse the Cal Ave upzoning. Whether that building gets through or not, we already have a University Avenue. We need our retail and real businesses that we have there now, not another trendy food court.


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Posted by Tired of Overdevelopment
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2014 at 8:57 pm

"We need our retail and real businesses that we have there now, not another trendy food court surrounded by way too much office space."


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