Children's gym hits stalemate
Bland design among review board's concerns about gym planned near freeway
A youth sports gym proposed for a lot abutting U.S. Highway 101 in south Palo Alto has so far encountered negative reviews from Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board.
The gym is the brainchild of local fathers Jason Peery and John Stevens, who have trouble finding enough space to coach their collective 11 children in various sports teams, Peery said.
Developers have proposed tearing down the current building at 3750 Fabian Way — formerly Kiki's Candy Bar — and erecting an 11,320 square-foot gym with an additional 1,670 square feet of storage, according to the project description provided to the city. It would include a basketball/volleyball court and locker rooms.
The sports space would be used by junior varsity and younger sports teams of the Los Altos-based Pinewood school and Palo Alto schools, the proposal states.
Peery is overseeing design and construction of the project, but it would be owned by Pinewood, a private K-12 school that has three campuses but only one gym, he said.
His agreement with Pinewood will allow the sports groups he and Stevens coach, such as National Junior Basketball and church teams, to use the gym, he said.
"We saw an opportunity for the community and for Pinewood to have a nice gymnasium in a city that's short on gym space," he said.
But members of the Architectural Review Board, which reviewed project in mid-December, decided the project has too many flaws to proceed at this time.
The board was split 2-2 — with member Heather Trossman absent — on whether the project should be rejected or merely revised, member Judith Wasserman said Wednesday.
The split sends the project to Director of Planning and Community Environment Steve Emslie, who can reject it, accept it or send it back to the architectural board, Associate Planner Jennifer Cutler said.
Emslie is out of the office until Jan. 2, a department spokeswoman said.
Wasserman and member David Solnick voted to reject the project.
" I didn't think there was enough that was approvable for continuation," Wasserman said.
Solnick said he found the structure bland. The proposed building's tilt-up concrete walls were more suitable for an office park than a gym, he said.
"It very much looked like an office building. ... I have a different image for that than for a gym for children," Solnick said after the meeting.
Two walls, which abut lot lines, would also be prohibited by the building code from having windows, Solnick said. The windowless walls would face a creek, but new condominiums across the creek would also face the plain structure, he said.
Architect Richard Campbell said it is unlikely the project can afford to replace the concrete walls with a jazzier texture. But he and Peery are looking at adding decorative elements and color to the exterior to respond to board concerns, he said.
Solnick also questioned why an upstairs space labeled "storage" had large windows and an airy staircase, he said.
"It was pretty clear to me it was intended to be something quite different," he said.
Board Chair Clare Malone-Pritchard and Vice Chair Grace Lee, who supported continuing the project, were not available for comment.
Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Additional reporting by Staff Writer Becky Trout.