Guest Opinion: Even without housing, Gateway offers many benefits
After eight public hearings with few opposing speakers, we believe the Gateway project, a transit-oriented development with Planned Community zoning proposed for 101 Lytton Ave., is nearing final approval. Both the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission recommended the City Council approve an earlier version of the project with four floors of office space and a fifth floor of rental apartments, of which half were "affordable" below-market-rate units.
Then on March 12, the City Council, while indicating support for a strong Gateway building, directed the removal of the fifth-floor residences, preferring instead that the 101 Project provide greater investment in transportation and parking innovations. Other PC zones within the downtown area have included many other well-supported "landmark" buildings, including 250 University, 529 Bryant, 531 Cowper, 499 University, 400 Emerson, the Byxbee House, among others. The new direction from the council was largely in response to neighborhoods that have been impacted by obtrusive parking on their residential streets by Downtown employees. The next hearing will be May 7 before the City Council.
Even with the removal of the fifth-floor residences, the 101 Project remains a leader in transit-oriented-development. The new office building greatly reduces vehicular traffic. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission reports that offices near a train station can reduce car trips by up to 42 percent. A downtown office reduces far more car trips than does downtown housing. Few residents ride the train. Instead, because of the high cost of Palo Alto housing, residents choose to live in Palo Alto so they can be near their work in Palo Alto. On the other hand, many employees commute by train to Palo Alto for legal, financial and technology jobs. As the highest train-boarding and departing location between San Jose and San Francisco, Palo Alto is a leader for transit-oriented-development.
The 101 Project offers the greatest variety and value of public benefits ever provided in the downtown. For example:
• Housing benefits include more than $2 million for affordable housing, with a $1.2 million contribution and an $826,000 impact fee.
• Parking benefits include by far the largest in-lieu parking fee, $1.5 million, ever paid in the city. None of this fee would be required if the council allowed the 1:1 FAR parking exemption provided under any standard zoning, without discretionary approval.
In addition, the project will:
• Provide attendant parking for 40 spaces (only 10 spaces are credited).
•Contribute $250,000 to the Neighborhood Preservation and Permit Parking Program for Professorville and Downtown North.
• Provide public access for 22 private parking spaces.
•Contribute $60,000 to downtown parking programs.
•Begin a transportation-demand management program to reduce parking by 20 percent.
•Provide urban design benefits valued at over $500,000.
•To support energy and environmental leadership, provide $250,000 for electrical vehicle charging stations, transit passes for tenants, Zip Cars and exceed building standards for improved energy and water conservation. •
Jim Baer is one of the city's most active developers and real estate consultants. He is representing the three developers of the 101 Lytton project, Lund Smith, Boyd Smith Jr. and Scott Foster. Baer helped the Weekly develop its office building on Cambridge Avenue and co-owned it until construction was completed in 2009, when the Weekly bought out his interest. The Weekly has no current financial ties to Baer.