Plan approved for offices at historic church

Building that once housed First Church of Christ, Scientist, to be preserved, renovated

A historic church in downtown Palo Alto will be preserved, renovated and transformed into an office building under a plan approved by the City Council Monday night.

The iconic building at 661 Bryant St., was constructed in 1916 and has housed the First Church of Christ, Scientist, until 2006, when the church merged with the Second Church of Christ, Scientist.

In 2008, the company ECI Three Bryant, LLC, purchased the building with the intention of preserving and upgrading the building, which is considered one of the area's best examples of Mission Revival architectural style.

On Monday, the council unanimously endorsed the company's plan to preserve the building and to create office space on the ground floor. The council also granted the applicant the right to develop more than 5,000 square feet at a different site, as part an incentive to preserve the historic features of the structure.

The project was prompted by the city's policy of giving development "bonuses" to builders who preserve historic structures.

Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said Monday night that this is exactly the kind of project the policy was meant to encourage.

"This project has been given a lot of thought by the city," Espinosa said. "Thank goodness we have these sorts of ordinances to protect these properties and to rehabilitate them."

The proposal also includes a new handicap ramp and replacement of the tinted glass in 22 of the church's windows. The "historic opalescent glass" at five other windows would also be replaced and new landscaping installed.

Councilman Larry Klein called the proposed renovation a "superb project," one that would make a "great contribution to our community." The city's Historic Resources Board had also unanimously approved the project, though it added more than 20 conditions of approval.

David Bower, chair of the board, said members felt strongly that the proposal both meets the needs of the city and offers the developer enough incentives to make the project viable. Bower noted that the building hasn't received any significant architectural changes since its construction.

"In the 94 years it's been here it's almost unchanged," Bower said. "It's pretty unique in terms of historic architecture in this city."

The commission's conditions pertained mostly to preserving historic components of the building, including its tinted glass, its exterior lighting fixtures and its large doors.

The council's only disagreement was over whether the city should inspect the project every three years to make sure the applicant is complying with all the conditions. But the proposal by council members Karen Holman and Greg Scharff to mandate the regular inspections failed to convince the rest of the council, who voted it down 2-6 (with Nancy Shepherd recusing herself).

The council also required the applicant to provide a marker on the site identifying the historic building and referring to its protected status.


Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2010 at 9:24 am

That is all fine and dandy, but whatever businesses go into the new building will have to guarantee that they will not generate any new net car trips in Palo Alto (after all, even one additional car trip is too many, according to a former council member) and they may have to provide housing for their employees.

Like this comment
Posted by TDR Supporter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Actually the 5,000-plus TDR square footage that was granted to the applicant is not limited to being utilized at a different site. Approximately 1,100 square feet will be used for the mezzanine as part of the project which was approved last night. The remaining bonus square footage may be used on site at a later date or can be transfered to another site.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Looks like the money changers won this round.

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