A founding member of a Palo Alto group dedicated to preserving the city's history has filed an appeal of a permit to build the Palo Alto History Museum.
Professorville resident Ken Alsman asked the Planning and Transportation Commission to reconsider a tentative permit for the museum, which would be located at 300 Homer Avenue in the historic Roth Building.
Commissioners will hear Alsman's appeal on Wednesday (June 8) at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
Alsman is a founder of the nonprofit group Palo Alto Stanford Heritage and a former member of the city's Historic Resources Board. But he said the proposed museum would not have adequate parking, thus affecting the surrounding neighborhood, according to a March 29 request.
The 1932 Birge Clark-designed Roth Building was purchased by the city for potential development in April 2000 in conjunction with the South of Forest Avenue redevelopment plan commonly known as SOFA 1.
The renovation would include 19,182 square feet plus a 1,462-square-foot addition at the rear of the building. It would house the museum, gallery space and offices for staff, a community meeting room, gift shop and café. Offices for another nonprofit tenant would be provided on the second floor.
The City Council approved a lease-option agreement and request by Palo Alto History Museum proponents to renovate the site for a museum in 2004. A lease-option agreement was extended to June 30, 2011, and the Historic Resources and Architectural Review boards unanimously recommended building rehabilitation plans in February.
The Director of Planning and Community Environment tentatively approved the conditional-use permit March 21, which prompted Alsman's appeal.
"I appealed something that in general I really support. My concern is the impact that the museum's parking changes and demands will have on the livability, enjoyment and quality of life in this historic Professorville neighborhood and adjoining residential areas," he said in an email to commissioners.
Unless the approval is laden with numerous conditions, he wrote, "the museum would become one more city action adding to the invasion of employees parking that is destroying our neighborhood."
City officials approved a downtown parking study in March to identify the parking problems in Professorville and potential solutions.
Residents have long complained about downtown employees parking on neighborhood streets, leaving no room for residents' guests. They say the commuters have also hit parked vehicles numerous times.
On April 26, the city held a community meeting to discuss recommendations from the parking study.
Alsman said the museum would have no on-site parking. The combination of employees, volunteers, lessees and attendees would heavily impact the neighborhood, he said.
The city's Transportation Division determined a maximum capacity in the Roth Building of 270 people, including 12 employees.
Sixty-eight parking spaces would be required, according to a city staff report. The proposed 14 bike spaces plus three long-term bike spaces are consistent with city requirements, according to the report.
About 60 parking spaces at 260 Homer Ave. across from the museum are available and are required by thge permit. But staff acknowledged the spaces are available for general public use and are not exclusively for museum goers and employees.
The spaces are available during evenings and weekends, and the times do not entirely coincide with the museum's proposed operating hours, staff noted.
Roth Building employees would not take up those spaces, however, since permit approval requires all employees to park in any city parking facility, staff said.
Staff members initially recommended converting more than 30 all-day street parking spaces along Homer Avenue and a portion of Bryant Street near the Roth Building to 2-hour parking. Alsman said that plan would likely push parking three blocks further into adjoining single-family neighborhoods.
But at the March 21 hearing, planning director Curtis Williams determined the parking conversion should not occur until after a downtown parking-management program has been completed.
Alsman also said the project should not go forward until after environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city should also conduct a traffic study, he said.
Staff said the Roth Building project is exempt from environmental review because it is a reuse of an existing building. Those reuses were analyzed in the Environmental Impact Report prepared for SOFA 1, with a determination of "less than significant" impacts, they said.
A traffic-impact analysis is unnecessary because the museum would generate on average fewer than 50 peak-hour trips per day, according to the transportation division.
Alsman acknowledged the museum might be a relatively small component of the total problem, but it is significant, he said.
"And, it is symptomatic of the lack of concern staff and the council has shown for the cumulative environmental impacts on our residential neighborhood of multiple, incremental land use and development decisions for downtown," he said.
He also raised concerns regarding potential impacts of new downtown development from transfer of development rights (TDRs).
TDR programs allow cities to transfer development rights from one property to another in order to control density or prices in one area of town or another.
Cities use TDRs to preserve open space, agricultural areas, historic buildings and housing by compensating property owners who lose the right to develop their property, according to the Cornell University Department of City and Regional Planning.
The staff report noted, however, the Comprehensive Plan caps nonresidential development in commercial districts at 350,000 square feet. It requires a one-year moratorium when that number is reached while the city studies any further development regulations.
TDRs, including the Roth Building's, would be part of the cap and can only be transferred under rules within the Comprehensive Plan.
The staff report recommended that commissioners approve the project, which would be considered by the council on July 18.