A proposal to improve the connection between Palo Alto's Main Library and its Art Center, both on Newell Road, is infuriating community gardeners, who fear the proposed improvements would threaten garden plots at the site.
The library and art center are both scheduled for major renovations over the next two years. The art center closed in April and will hold a renovation groundbreaking July 16.
The Library Advisory Commission discussed three potential designs last week. All three include the addition of a driveway between the main parking lots of the two buildings, removal of a parking shed and the addition of a central plaza.
Commissioner Leonardo Hochberg said the buildings would be better connected with the addition of a curved driveway, enabling visitors to go between the facilities easily.
But the plan to connect the library branch and art center has drawn criticism from visitors to the community gardens, which are adjacent to the library's main parking lot.
Up to six garden plots could be displaced by the driveway, according to preliminary plans.
A new driveway would also create noise and pollution in the gardens, according to Rita Morgin, a Palo Alto gardener. The driveway would pass by the "Garden Annex," an area that lies between the Main Library and Main Garden and serves as a meeting and play area for families and their children.
"Putting in a driveway will ruin the quietness of this gathering area," Morgin said.
She also argued that the loss of garden space would have a negative impact on visitors and wildlife.
"Bird habitat and buffer zones are not 'unused' or 'dead' space but very much alive and appreciated by families with children, gardeners and anyone who walks through the gardens. Don't pave over paradise," Morgin said.
But staff from city's Public Works and Community Services Department wrote in a report that a fire-access trail currently running through the community gardens could be moved, opening up alternate space for garden plots.
Morgin nonetheless argued that even with the removal of the trail and the addition of a driveway, there would still be less usable garden space due to exhaust from cars driving by.
The goal of connecting the library and art center include improving access to the buildings, increasing the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists and creating a sense of unity on the site, city staff said.
The driveway would enable cars to travel between parking lots when searching for a space, rather than exiting onto Newell Road and re-entering down the block, which endangers pedestrians and bicyclists, staff said.
The driveway plan would also bring new bike racks to the site to encourage cycling. A parking shed, which gardeners said attracts vagrant dwellers, would also be removed.
As part of the three proposed designs, a crosswalk between the art center and the library would be widened as a safety measure for pedestrians.
In the first design, the current driveway that runs in front of the art center would be retained, along with the narrow parking lot parallel to it.
The second design shows the current driveway curved and expanded to encompass parking spaces on either side (the current narrow lot would be eliminated). The crosswalk would also feature a raised platform acting as a large speed bump for cars.
The third design shares the same concepts as the second but would also expand a nearby drop-off zone.
The number of parking spaces could change, with the second option bringing the most additional spaces (up to nine) and the first option potentially resulting in the loss of one space.
Hochberg said that before renovations are made, it would be helpful to talk with people affiliated with other Bay Area buildings that feature connecting parking lots.
The preliminary designs will be presented to the City Council on July 11. If approved by the council, renovations would begin by the end of this year. Costs and funds for renovations are not yet finalized.