SKY'S THE LIMIT ... How high is too high? That is the central question these days for Palo Alto officials awash in building proposals. Normally, the city's 50-foot height limit — a long-standing sacred cow of local zoning regulations — offers a simple answer to this question. But with developers looking to place four giant office towers at 27 University Ave. and two huge office buildings on Page Mill Road, these aren't normal times. Faced with these proposals, a hot real estate market and heavy demand for affordable housing, city officials are now considering ways to loosen the height limit and encourage more growth. The Architectural Review Board tackled this subject Thursday morning, with several members expressing support for allowing exceptions to the 50-foot height limit or, as one member suggested, scrapping it entirely. Most board members were open to taller buildings, particularly in downtown and along El Camino Real. "I'm really in favor of us trying to find a different way to manage this and to create opportunities for different heights, where mass and scale can be balanced appropriately in recognition of neighborhood concerns," said board member Randy Popp, who works downtown. But any solution, he said, should carefully consider the parking impacts of the taller buildings. Board member Alex Lew said there are plenty of examples of seven-to-10-story buildings in neighboring communities and advocated surveying other areas for examples that work well in downtown locations. Board member Clare Malone Prichard was particularly enthusiastic about changing the height regulations. "I'm of a mind to not have a height limit anymore," she said, noting that the city's density regulations already limit building sizes. But she acknowledged that making the change would be a tall task. "There's a big fear in this town of tall buildings so that's not going to fly," she said.
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