Planning Commission approves 'Tree House'

Project to bring 35 affordable-housing units to south Palo Alto

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.


Like this comment
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

I just wonder how Commissioner Samir Tuma would feel if this dense project with no open space was built near him.

Like this comment
Posted by South Palo Altan
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 29, 2009 at 10:31 am

"Commission Vice Chair Samir Tuma praised the project for bringing much needed socioeconomic diversity to South Palo Alto."

South Palo Alto already has FAR MORE "socioeconomic diversity" than North Palo Alto. I'm guessing that Mr. Tuma lives in North Palo Alto, and is quite happy with its present level of socioeconomic diversity.

The 400 block of Charleston Road area will be shortly subject to the immense onslaught of new traffic when the JCC and senior housing is finished. The last thing we need is yet more traffic added to this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Brendan
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 10:31 am

This is OK with me. It's right in line with what's already in that area anyway. I can't imagine any reasonable person having objections to this project and I _do_ live in the area :-) Regarding the park/open space argument against....Juana Bri is just a quick hop away, right?

Like this comment
Posted by midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 11:14 am

Mr. Tuma lives in south Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2009 at 11:36 am

It's especially past-time to stop approving developments along the East Charleston/Arastradero Road school commute corridor. It's past-time to stop developments adding population to the area. We are beginning to hear from farmers north of us - some are not planting lettuce and tomatoes due to the uncertainty of a water supply for their crops. Do we want only crops from China and Mexico? California needs to do housing mitigation, a small amount each year -not enable increased population.

We need a city council elected by district. It is much easier to recall a district representative who has promised to support the people in the district and then changes his/her mind.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 11:38 am

Mr Tuma doesn't live in South Palo Alto, he's moved. His house in South PA which happens to be near me is presently occupied by another family. I could tell you where he lives but the PA Weekly would remove my posting.

Like this comment
Posted by Nick
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 12:15 pm

With pieces like this, it would be welcome to see an actual picture, whether a photo or the architect's rendering from the front page of the reviewed plans, so readers can get a better idea of what's being talked about. Thanks

Like this comment
Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2009 at 12:54 pm

The units are studios anbd one bedroom apartments. Is there a limit on how many people can live it in these units? If yes, then it is geared towards single low income people, read without kids, which is good because it does not put pressure on our school system.
Will this housing be sold or rented to low income people? How do they plan to track the income levels to ensure these people still qualify as low income residents. I know so many cases when people get BMR (below market rate) housing and continue to live in these houses even after they find good paying jobs.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 29, 2009 at 5:26 pm

It's right in line with what's already in that area anyway...not really. The new units at Arbor Real (old Hyatt Rickeys) that face it are two story, the houses on one side and to the back are single story homes. Yes, the building on the other side has I believe three floors. But on the corner of Charleston and El Camino, three of the four corners are single story (albeit high ceilings) and the other corner is Arbor Real.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 29, 2009 at 6:53 pm

There is far too much development in this area. It is amazing how bad the traffic is in the morning and the JCC and other housing units are not even open yet. Would this project be far better suited, say along Park Ave near California, so that people could utilize the Train and other public transportation?

Regarding the public notice, I did not receive any mailing for this project and I live quite close to this proposed project... Close enough that the construction wakes me up at 4am with there construction (which is not suppose to start until 7am) with constant heavy machinery and their back-up beepers....But I digress. What I really mean to state is that the Planning Commission does not understand how dense tghe projects are that they have already approved.

But please, make sure that the same architect firm that 'designed' the box at the corner of Charleston and San Antonio (the JCC) does not butcher another project.

Like this comment
Posted by Response to Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2009 at 12:49 am

Commissioner Tuma lives in Barron Park.

Like this comment
Posted by A long time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Does anyone actually think that the Planning Commission and Council care what S.Palo Alto residents want or need? Maybe one?

After converting the Alma Plaza to Housing, I don't think so. A 1000 signatures to keep it as a shopping center and the response that got.
It was long planned to be housing I guess as they wouldn't allow remodeling/expanding the grocery and other retail.

I would hope and expect that there will only be maybe 4 or 5 garages,parking spaces as it is only a very short distance to El Camino and busses. Low income people don't need cars, there are many hundreds of low paying jobs along ElCamino in that area why allow the renters to have cars.

Or will the renters be preselecte based on who they know or whose relative is a friend of someone as I would guess is what is happening other places around town.

Watch for the council meeting, sign up to get a notice, be involved and try to stop it, such outragous density with no open space, grass ,trees, etc

Like this comment
Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2009 at 3:25 am

Construction on residential should start at 8am. Not sure about commercial or if that is considered commercial even if they are building residential units. It's now 3:20 am and I am lying awake listening to the unholy racket from the tracks and getting more pissed off by the minute. Didn't I hear the JCC was a 24/7 constuction project at least at the beginning too? Palo Alto is turning into Crappo Alto! Enough is enough!

Like this comment
Posted by LT
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 31, 2009 at 9:09 am

John Barton lives quite close to this proposed development, it will be interesting to see if he votes as enthusiastically for this development as he has for all the other South PA developments he has voted in favor of.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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