A leafy apartment complex for low-income residents is breezing through the city's approval process.
The Tree House, a tiered 35-unit building slated for 488 West Charleston Road, received an endorsement from the Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday night.
The project, by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, had already received unanimous approval from the Architectural Review Board and now needs only City Council's approval before it gets the zone change it needs. On Wednesday, the planning commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the developer's request for a planned community (PC) zone. Commissioner Karen Holman dissented.
Wednesday's hearing was the commission's second on the project. In October, area residents packed into the Council Chamber to blast the Tree House and argue that the new development would exacerbate the neighborhood's traffic and parking woes.
But only two people spoke out against the project Wednesday night, prompting Commissioner Arthur Keller to ask staff if the city's notification procedure was different this time around. It wasn't, he was told. Though commissioners expressed reservations about traffic and lamented the project's lack of private open space, they ultimately voted to recommend approval.
The building would feature two-, three- and four-story tiers and would include 33 studios and two one-bedroom apartments. It would house persons earning 20 percent to 50 percent of the area median income ($16,900 to $42,200 in annual income).
Commission Vice Chair Samir Tuma praised the project for bringing much needed socioeconomic diversity to South Palo Alto.
"I think the City of Palo Alto, the residents of Palo Alto, are quite lucky to have a project like this come before us and lucky to have folks dedicated to working on this type of project," Vice Chair Samir Tuma said after he proposed recommending acceptance of the project.
Commissioner Lee Lippert seconded Tuma's motion.
The only two members of the public who spoke to the commission were George Thompson and Robert Moss, both of whom said the project's "public benefits" which basically amount to a guarantee that the units would remain affordable were insufficient to warrant the zone change.
"We're talking about 30 low- or very-low-income units," Thompson said. "You need over 1,000."
"The public benefit is meaningless here. It's not statistically significant. It's a drop in an empty bucket."
Holman, meanwhile, objected to the project because it did not include private open spaces for its residents. Spaces such as private gardens are necessary quality-of-life components, Holman said.
"It's been shown in numerous studies that when people have access to nature and gardens it's very therapeutic," Holman said. "I'm hard-pressed to support this or any affordable-housing project that doesn't include a private, open-space component."
The council is expected to discuss the Tree House within the next two months. If approved, developers expect to complete the project and have it occupied by December 2010.