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Planning commission lauds 'true mixed-use' project

Original post made on Jul 11, 2013

A proposed mixed-use development at 3159 El Camino Real that has drawn attention for its high ratio of housing units to commercial space won the support of the Planning and Transportation Commission, which voted to approve a set of requests from the project's developer Wednesday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, July 11, 2013, 1:18 AM

Comments (41)

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:54 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I think this was a "summer re-run" of an episode of the PTC that aired earlier in the year. The script is certainly the same.
- The commissioners declare the project to be "excellent".
- Some commissioners make perfunctory claims that they have reservations, which even they themselves ignore.
- Residents point out serious problems with the proposal, and are ignored.
- Commission approves the project unanimously, giving the applicant the exemptions requested using questionable rationales and mechanisms.


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Posted by rerun
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 11, 2013 at 7:02 am

ACtually, this is an oft-repeated rerun--a new development is proposed in town and DOug Moran and Bob Moss oppose it. I see it as a knee jerk reaction, so I do not take their opposition seriously


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Posted by Realist
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:24 am

Puzzle lifts have been used for many years in high density areas such as New York City and Tokyo. They shouldn't be a problem at all.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:39 am

This is a quote from the above article.

"With commissioners Arthur Keller and Michael Alcheck absent, the commission voted 5-0 to recommend that the City Council approve the requests, which would allow the developer -- the Silva family of Menlo Park -- to skirt some city requirements for the project."

Note: it's the last eight words that are 'trouble in River City' all over again. Skirt the rules.
This commission needs a total overhaul. Like dissolve or recall.




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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:46 am

> Martinez was also concerned about granting a Design
> Enhancement Exception (DEE) to the 50-foot height limit
> for liveable space.

The City has a 50 foot height limit for a reason. This exemption should not be granted. What good is having a law, if special interest groups all think that they should not be expected to honor the law. A five foot exception today becomes a twenty-five foot exception tomorrow.

High density projects will kill Palo Alto--and this so-called "commission" seems to be doing everything to help the property developers kill our town off.


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Posted by A Veteran Observer
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

Mr Moran left out the final step:

- Carefully write the enabling ordnance so the developers' privileges are ironclad and their obligations are unenforceable.

Thus, if the developer decides it's better to have 48 offices instead of 48 apartments, our city can only wring its hands--if it cares to notice.


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Posted by A
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:55 am

There is another glaring planning failure evident in the above article: Studio and one bedroom apartments in this town are NOT largely occupied by young professionals. Nearly every new apartment and condo, no matter the size, has school-age children, even if the children live somewhere else and the parents just use the address for registering the children. Sometimes just the grandparents live in the small Palo Alto apartment.

Young single professionals do not want to pay the premium for P.A. real estate that is mainly due to the schools. Besides, the nightlife in downtown Mountain View is much more active than downtown P.A. these days.


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Posted by Done deal
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

The Planning Commission is a rubber stamp for developers. They utter pious objections then vote for the developer. They are as corrupt as the rest of the system
Didn't hurt that the architect was until recently on the Architectural Review Board.
Martinez said it's an aberration of the zoning but then said the city should try to find ways to incorporate more developments like it. Double think? Triple think? [Portion removed.]


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Posted by tom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Why bother with a Commission or "hearing" at all? And I am surprise they didn't exclaim the great benefits of its proximity to the train station and how all the modest income "young professionals" will mostly be leaving their cars snug in those cute little puzzle lifts.


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Posted by totally agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm

@Bob,Joe,Veteran observer,Done deal,tom
Your collective skepticism is well warranted. Take a look at the Epiphany Hotel (the old Casa Olga) now under construction at Emerson/Hamilton. Drive west on Hamilton from Waverley to get a good view of the 12 foot roof extension and its impact, visual effect on the streetscape and whole corridor. I guess this was another "design exception" granted.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Actually, totally agree, the architectural review board would have signed off on this. I know it is different and I understand how palo alto hates change . If only they would have made the hotel to look like an Eichler!!!


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Posted by totally agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm

@Not an issue
The Casa Olga was already 76 ft high I believe, well above the 50 ft
"height limit" so a 12 ft roof extension creates a huge visual impact
well down the Hamilton corridor for example. Apparently this exception was not an issue for the staff/ARB and it sailed right through.


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Posted by PA parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm

A,
The PAUSD has a tip line to report kids in the district's schools who do not reside full-time in the district. If you actually know of such cases, you should report them to the PAUSD. My guess is the majority of residents of these small studio and 1-BR apartments will actually be young tech workers without kids.


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Posted by totally agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 7:12 pm

The roof extension at Epiphany is a horizontal extension over
Hamilton Ave creating the strong visual impact down Hamilton. It is
very unusual it seems to me, and more, or at least some, attention needed to be given to this, even in Palo Alto where just about anything goes.


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Posted by Ski
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Are there any projects requiring a variance the planning commission does not like?


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm

How far down Hamilton? Downtown is the business district, with buildings without any setbacks. Much ado about nothing.


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Posted by totally agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm

@Not an issue
The roof extension at Epiphany has an enormous impact on the Hamilton
corridor at least to Waverley. You have to see it to believe it.
It is not done yet so if light colored panels are attached to it
that might help reduce the impact, but now, it is dark and it is
dominant and actually shocking. It changes the entire skyline looking west and in its shape looks totally out of place and unnerving. It is a mutation and that is what it looks like. It is
possible that when it is complete other elements yet to be done
might alleviate this first impression, or it's possible that other
elements will make it even worse.


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Posted by And the building rampage continues
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

There always seems to be 2 PTC commissioners not present at these important voting meetings. Why serve on any commission or the council if you cannot attend 100 percent of the meetings? Arthur Keller in particular was not present at the Maybell vote, or this vote. Ummm!


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2013 at 11:18 am

from "A": "There is another glaring planning failure evident in the above article: Studio and one bedroom apartments in this town are NOT largely occupied by young professionals. Nearly every new apartment and condo, no matter the size, has school-age children, even if the children live somewhere else and the parents just use the address for registering the children. Sometimes just the grandparents live in the small Palo Alto apartment."

"Nearly all"....Please provide concrete proof. Where is the data to support your assertion.


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Posted by Time for a change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm

We have another mixed use project taking place in our neighborhood that was "highly commended" by the Planning Commission. Since the project's approval and commencement, the developer has consistently disregarded both substantive aspects of the approved plans and city construction regulations. They added height to their buildings by elevating ground levels, they added primary access to their upper levels with exterior staircases that enable individual units to become multi-family, they work into the evening and on weekends well past construction hours. When these variances are brought directly to their attention, the response is a veritable "catch me if you can".

Our neighborhood has made compliance appeals to the Planning Department and Public Works, but they are ignored as it appears they are too busy doing staff work for additional soon-to-be-approved-and-abused projects. Make sure to have your voices heard in the approval process because they won't be afterwards.

I'm left wondering where this will all end-up. Frankly we were a bit naive when we moved to PA, thinking it seemed like a great residential community with quality schools. Maybe it was at the time, but it now seems like a haven for development with little or no regard for what happens once ground is broken.

I'm not a zero-growth zealot, but the pendulum seems to have swung way too far in favor of developers. I think it's time for a change and Palo Alto voters need to think about their neighborhoods and their time spent driving the next time they head to the polls to vote for Palo Alto City Council members. The City Council members are ultimately the ones who approve all these projects.


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Posted by sad reality
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

@Time for a change
The disillusionment and frustration of this resident are felt so strongly in this eloquent post. The problems he cites are not isolated events of course and just reflect as he rightly says the priorities in City Hall. The City is moving in one direction full
speed ahead, get out of the way.



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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm

When a developer mentions the magic mantra, "BMR housing," the planning commission and the council fall in line to make whatever allowances the developer wants. It's almost Pavlovian.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vati
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Equinox started using the former Pet Food Depot building only recently, and has invested a lot of money in it, only to have it torn down. Hopefully, they will get some compensation from the developer.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm

At first glance, this one makes sense to me. Interesting mix, as long as it does not have BMR units. I like the parking solution. I also like the potential property taxes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CA State laws
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2013 at 10:47 pm

RE: "When a developer mentions the magic mantra, "BMR housing," the planning commission and the council fall in line to make whatever allowances the developer wants. It's almost Pavlovian."

CA state law mandates the density bonuses through clear formulas.
The City has no legal standing to refuse the developers, and in this case CA state law included the FAR bonus to 1.06 from 1.0 for the BMR units. The items that were discretionary were to allow 16K feet of office (the limit is 5K per parcel but the developer is combining 4 parcels, which would have been allowed 20K feet total), and allowing the partial lofts, combined with the mechanical screening, to extend 5' into the 15 ' of height allowed over the 50' building height limit. Based on current zoning and the traffic study's projected impacts and mitigation, the City also had no legal grounds to reduce the density of the project.


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Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

Time for a change, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 22 hours ago

We have another mixed use project taking place in our neighborhood that was "highly commended" by the Planning Commission. Since the project's approval and commencement, the developer has consistently disregarded both substantive aspects of the approved plans and city construction regulations.

-----------

What is the address of the project?


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Posted by A rolling stone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

If you notice certain people come out against any and all projects in the city. I see a pattern here--maybe the Weekly will also.


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

It's Sat afternoon. I just returned from Downtown. University Ave
is backed up in both directions, from ECR right through Crescent Park. So the string has run out here. The destruction of the
City is not in the future. It is here. With just the projects in
the pipeline, try to imagine the end state. But let's try to squeeze
in a couple more office towers at 27 University just to put the
icing on the Cheesecake at 375 University.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Present tense--- would you prefer that university avenue be deserted?


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Posted by It IS an issue
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

>would you prefer that university avenue be deserted?
Foolish false choice. Reductio ad absurdum. Mindless argument.

I just returned from Paly High. The intersection of Town and Country and El Camino is HORRIBLE. Stuck, traffic not moving for 2 light cycles.

What is your financial connection with development?


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm

It is an issue- thanks for your opinion. Did you check to see f any events are ongoing downtown today? To be honest, I find the comment that university was backed up in both directions to be absurd. How would present tense know that? My question is a valid one. -- what level of traffic do you want on university? Isn't traffic a sign of people shopping, eating and visiting university avenue shopping district? What would you prefer?
As for T&C area, I think we all know what the problem is there and it has nothing t.o do with density.
As for your final question, let me leave you with the quotation-- reduction ad absurdum, mindless argument.


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm

It IS an issue has it exactly right. What we are talking about here
is balance and sustainability. What made Palo Alto so unusual
and so outstanding was the balance between its role and historic
position as an academic/ technology/business center , and its fine
neighborhoods, character, environmental and aesthetic values and quality of life. That balance is being completely destroyed by a
single-minded Council/staff committed to, seemingly fascinated by and obsessed with massive over-development which feeds on itself as more job creation creates more calls for more housing, etc. Meanwhile the City is choking on traffic, parking overflow into
neighborhoods, cut-through commute traffic, sign clutter and
ugly streetscapes, and a design review process (ARB) which in the context of developer control as a starting point, is a complete failure.



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Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Present tense (worried about back ups on University Avenue):
Actually, traffic signals every block on University Avenue are set to facilitate pedestrian crossings to get to businesses, and to allow drivers to turn left or right whenever they want to so they can get to where the parking is -- NOT to maximize traffic flow. This has been true at least for 25 years since downtown became a happening place.

A rational person would never drive the full downtown segment of Univ. Ave after driving it once. Far quicker to go Lytton or Hamilton or Homer/Channing.

My point is that your complaint about backups on Saturday afternoon on Univ Ave doesn't prove anything other than you don't understand what it means to keep your downtown thriving.


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

@resident PA High School community
There are so many things wrong with your comments that I can't
even respond to it. But let me just say that the cut-through routes
you recommend- Hamilton and Homer/Channing- is exactly what we don't want through our neighborhoods. Hamilton Ave is a residential street which has already been seriously degraded by traffic in Crescent Park and the parking overflow well past Guinda. The lack of transportation infrastructure, the fact that our access routes are in grid-lock and are through our residential areas is exactly the problem. Also,it's hard to make a right turn mid-block on University Downtown when traffic is stopped at the light.I drove University the full length on Sat because when I got caught in the traffic I was even surprised on a Sat afternoon and decided to check out how bad the back-up was to fully understand what is happening to our community. For the other "irrational" drivers on University I guess we should put some signs up directing them to take Hamilton and Homer-Channing so we can build more office space Downtown. The Council is always looking for rationales as to why we can accommodate more office space- I'm sure they would welcome your idea here. Also, the auto/truck emissions from stalled traffic are not good for pedestrians Downtown, although the traffic lights and stalled traffic are actually designed to help them and
businesses Downtown as you say. But greenhouse gases is another issue- we won't get into that one. To sum up your position, it's let's just keep doing what we're doing and try to encourage more cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods. Of course this discussion is all before those projects in the pipeline including Stanford Med Center but I assume you have factored that in, in your long-term view.



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Posted by Not enough traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2013 at 9:08 am

"But let me just say that the cut-through routes
you recommend- Hamilton and Homer/Channing- is exactly what we don't want through our neighborhoods."
Those streets are not exactly meandering streets that run through the middle of neighborhoods. Hamilton has much business on it. And I believe that Homer and Channing were designed to move traffic.
Plus these streets are public thoroughfares.
No one wants traffic in their neighborhood--we have heard that all before


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hamilton and Homer/Channing east of Middlefield are residential
areas not designed for cut-through traffic to/from Bayshore Freeway
produced by mega-office buildings Downtown.


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm

@resident Palo Alto High School community
Let me try one more time. Your last paragraph says that my complaints about backups on Univ Ave doesn't prove anything except I don't understand what it means to keep the Downtown thriving. So the tradeoff of gridlock, neighborhood degradation,cut-through traffic, safety, air pollution, for a "thriving" Downtown is acceptable. That is your opinion. Besides the question of who decided this was an acceptable tradeoff, or who gets the disproportionate benefits and who pays the costs is secondary to the alternative of a balanced approach in which development is controlled at a level which produces a viable, successful, attractive Downtown without destroying the qualities which used to define Palo Alto. That seems like a better approach to me.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm

@ present tense: I think most people understood the traffic alternatives as meaning when you are driving in the downtown district --- not as cut throughs of the CP neighborhood.


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Posted by present tense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm

@Crescent Park dad
Thank you for your clarification of resident's post. He is talking
about skirting University Ave backups Downtown by using Hamilton,etc.
Of course High Street is often in gridlock as people try that. But the real problem is the through traffic to/from Bayshore through the neighborhoods and the over-flow parking from the massive over-development. Last Sat even in a non-commute time, the back-up
was severe along the entire corridor. Even as we sacrifice our
neighborhoods to this over-development, the infrastructure cannot handle the load. And projects in the pipeline keep coming. But next
time when High St is backed up, people can try Waverley to Hamilton.
But the new office project at 537 Hamilton now underway is causing
some delays I noticed on Hamilton. So maybe people better try Lytton on their way to Bayshore.












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