A proposal to build 26 homes on the site of a soon-to-be-closed day care center in south Palo Alto suffered a possibly fatal setback Wednesday night when the city's Planning and Transportation Commission voted it down.
The plan by SummerHill Homes called for the creation of a residential community at 525 San Antonio Road, the present site of Peninsula Day Care. The child care center, which stands adjacent to the Greendell neighborhood on the city's southern edge, is scheduled to close in two months after 37 years in operation.
SummerHill cited the area's proximity to the San Antonio Road Caltrain station and the nearby Charleston Shopping Center as good reasons for building homes at the 3-acre site. But after hearing from skeptical residents from the Greenmeadow and Greendell neighborhoods, the commission reached the opposite conclusion.
The commission voted 6-1, with Eduardo Martinez dissenting, to recommend that the City Council deny SummerHill's proposed zone change. Commissioners cited a variety of reasons, including the area's insufficient access to transportation, a shortage of services in the neighborhood and the recent influx of dense housing developments in south Palo Alto.
The SummerHill proposal isn't nearly as dense as other projects the city has approved in the south Palo Alto over the past decade. Unlike recent developments such as Altaire, Echelon and Arbor Real (each of which has more than 70 units), the SummerHill plan called for a "low-density multiple-family residential" zone that would allow for 26 two-story homes.
After hearing community opposition, the developer agreed to reduce the number of houses to 23. Seven of these would be one-story homes that would serve as a buffer zone between the development's 16 two-story homes and Greendell's houses. The new plan was meant to address concerns about privacy from the Greendell and Greenmeadow neighborhoods, which largely are composed of one-story Eichler-style homes.
"It's quite a low-impact residential development," SummerHill Vice President Katia Kamangar told the commission. "We feel it is appropriate in the context of adjacencies, access to retail and access to transit."
But the revisions weren't enough to sway the neighborhood residents, about 40 of whom attended the Wednesday meeting. Lisa Steinback of the Greenmeadow Community Association said members of her group voted 60 to 3 to oppose the proposed zone change.
Recent housing projects and zone changes in south Palo Alto have "undermined the residents' trust in the city's commitment to the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance," Steinback said.
"Approval of this project would exacerbate a critical problem of unplanned housing development that already is affecting south Palo Alto schools, playing fields, space availability and transportation systems," she told the commission.
The city's planning staff also recommended the commission reject SummerHill's proposal for a zone change. Planning Manager Amy French noted in her report the proposed development would include a "relatively significant population increase" and would be located more than half a mile from the Caltrain station. Based on these factors, she wrote, the proposed zone change is "inconsistent with the council direction to focus increased housing densities near transit."
Commissioner Arthur Keller, who made the motion to reject the project, agreed with most of the speakers and called the site of the development "not a good location for high-density housing." Keller disputed SummerHill's claims that the area around San Antonio Road is transit-friendly. He also argued the area doesn't have enough amenities to justify more development.
"We've put (housing) in East Meadow Circle, Bayshore and different places where there were no amenities and no services nearby," Keller said. "Here's another one adding to that mix."
SummerHill is not the only party interested in developing the San Antonio land. Last October, the Palo Alto Unified School District expressed interest in acquiring the property to meet the needs of the city's growing southern population.