'Triangle' development to revitalize eyesore

New mixed-use building will try to fill old 'gap-toothed' development pattern on El Camino Way island

A hard-to-develop, triangular-shaped land anomaly on El Camino Real that has been a continual nuisance to city officials could soon be developed into a three-story, mixed-use retail and residential building.

The northernmost parcel of land, at 4073 El Camino Real, is located in what are called the "triangle properties." The 8,141-square-foot property is situated on an island of land sandwiched between El Camino Real and El Camino Way, across from Palo Alto Commons. The island extends from Los Robles Avenue to Arastradero/West Charleston roads.

For years, the parcel has been the subject of a number of code-enforcement cases related to maintenance of the vacant site, according to a staff report to the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

A gas station on the site was abandoned in 1994. A drive-in coffee restaurant was proposed in the mid-1990s and a preliminary ARB application was submitted for a new restaurant in 2007, but no formal applications have ever been submitted.

But the new development by Redwood City architect Ken Hayes of the Hayes Group would construct a 5,486-square-foot, three-story mixed-use building with an innovative solar roof and eco-friendly materials and would exceed the city's minimum green-building-standard LEED Silver level, according to Hayes.

Two single-family residential units, each approximately 1,800 square feet, would take up two stories above a 1,866-square-foot retail space. The main living/dining room areas would be on the second floor with three bedrooms and two full baths for each unit on the third floor. Each residential unit would have a balcony and would share a patio on the rooftop of the retail center, which extends beyond the apartments. A small portion of the solar panels would exceed the 40-foot height limit, according to the staff report.

Access to the site would be from both El Camino Real and El Camino Way, to serve the new building and clients of the adjacent VCA Stanford Animal Hospital.

The city's vision for the triangle area includes a "village" setting that combines mixed-use development with "pedestrian-friendly streets," under the 2002 South El Camino Real Design Guidelines and the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The unusually shaped parcels face difficult development constraints, according to City Planner Jason Nortz. The buildings have more than one street face and must front both streets to create a coherent streetscape and to eliminate the current gap-toothed look, he said. The height and mass along El Camino Real can be of a larger scale, but the portion of building facing El Camino Way must be lower and less dense, to fit with the more intimate residential character of the nearby neighborhood.

The new building would address those constraints by tiering the building's mass.

The project asks for a design-enhancement exception to slightly reduce the required 12-foot sidewalk width along El Camino Real to about 10 feet. The request was made because the lot is exceptionally narrow, Nortz said. A formal application is expected to be submitted to the ARB at the end of November, he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by barbara
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Just above you say, "The height and mass along El Camino Real can be of a larger scale,..." Did you forget that you are trying to turn El Camino Real into a walking 'neighborhood' street? Does this city's left hand really not know what the right hand is doing? Well I don't have to worry, I'll be long gone by the time the Palo Alto process gets this in place.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2010 at 6:44 pm

This will be built just a few doors down from another funny shaped building including a Starbucks and Subway that has been mostly empty since it was built. Are we really that low on empty buildings in South Palo Alto on ECR that we need to keep building more?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I have used that Subway and Starbucks often and they are very busy and it is often hard to park nearby. They get the Gunn high school crowd. I imagine if something similar is opened it will do just as well.

This seems an odd place for housing though and I really question who may want to live in this odd location, particularly with retail so close.

A more interesting question would be what is going to happen to the old Su Hong's? It is beginning to look quite blighted now.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Nov 30, 2010 at 7:44 am

just mention that the building will meet or exceed the city's green building LEED standard and city leaders will wet themselves and give away the farm on zoning regulations.mkhr3 Hope the residential tenants like living next to a pet hospital with barking dogs.

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