Developer wins support for new housing near Cubberley

SummerHill's plan for 10 new houses on San Antonio Road moves ahead; school district also interested in site

After hitting a wall earlier this year, developer SummerHill Homes scored a major victory Wednesday evening when its bid to build houses on a coveted south Palo Alto property earned the backing of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission.

SummerHill's proposal, which the commission swiftly approved by a 6-0 vote with Arthur Keller absent, is far less ambitious than the one the City Council unanimously struck down in May. At that time, the builder requested a zone change that would enable construction of 23 townhouses -- far more than the zoning typically allows -- at 525 San Antonio Road.

That proposal faced heavy opposition from the community and was panned by both the planning commission and the council. The new plan, which calls for 10 homes and no zoning changes, sailed through the commission hearing with little discussion and no neighborhood opposition.

The property, located near the Mountain View border, has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with SummerHill, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the surrounding neighborhoods offering disparate visions for its future. While SummerHill has consistently maintained that the site's proximity to the Caltrain station at San Antonio Road makes it ripe for dense housing, residents have argued that their area is too crowded and has insufficient services to accommodate an influx of new houses. The school district, meanwhile, has been eyeing the site -- which abuts Greendell School and Cubberley Community Center -- for a possible school expansion.

The 2.64-acre site was most recently used by the Peninsula Day Care Center, which closed in June after 35 years of operation.

The commission's approval of SummerHill's request could deal a blow to the plans of the school district, which earlier this month formally announced its interest in buying the site. This week, however, school Superintendent Kevin Skelly sent a letter to the commission saying that the district remains undecided about the possible purchase. He also stated in the letter that the district's expression of interest in the site was not related to SummerHill's most recent application.

"We again wish to emphasize that the PAUSD Board has made no formal decision to acquire the site and is still in the exploratory phase," Skelly wrote. "We understand that SummerHill Homes, Inc., remains under contract with the property owner, A&D Protocol, Inc., to purchase the property."

"Should development on the property be proposed by any party, including the owner or SummerHill, we again wanted to emphasize the fact that PAUSD has not made a decision to acquire the site. The City should remain free to process any applications for development as it otherwise would."

The new proposal calls for 10 single-family lots, five on either side of a cul-de-sac. Lot sizes would vary but would average about 9,700 square feet, said SummerHill Vice President Katia Kamangar. The cul-de-sac would be surrounded by a five-foot sidewalk. SummerHill has also agreed to include a public easement at the end of the cul-de-sac to allow future pedestrian and bike paths to Cubberley and Greendell, according to the project application.

The commission approved the project with few questions and little discussion. Commissioner Greg Tanaka said the project "seems to be heading in the right direction," while Commissioner Samir Tuma lauded the new plan for adhering to feedback from commissioners, council members and neighborhood residents, who overwhelmingly demanded a more modest proposal. He said he is very supportive of the new plan.

"To me that's the right project for here," Tuma said.

The school district had also reached out to SummerHill about its interest in the site. Kamangar told the commission Wednesday that the company will continue to hold talks with school officials about the district's interest.

"The school district has the ability to buy that land now," Kamangar told the commission. "They had that ability previously as well and we will continue to work with them."

The council is scheduled to discuss the project within the next month.

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Like this comment
Posted by AA
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The last thing this city needs is more expensive, exclusive housing, especially when the schools in this area are already overcrowded. Lets not keep adding housing our schools cannot accommodate. Class sizes in this area are already to big, how about fixing that first?

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Please tell me that the 9700 square feet is a typo. Is that the lot size?

Like this comment
Posted by Education
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

Hmmm, education vs. definite tax dollars from housing? Hope council is not counting on the new homes to fix the budget woes. Peninsula DayCare was a pillar in our community. It is greatly missed. God Bless Pastor Shaw, his family and former staff.

Like this comment
Posted by Katia Kamangar
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 8:52 am

Correction for the author: The houses will not be 9,700 sf. It's the lots that average 9,700 sf. Katia Kamangar/SummerHill Homes

Like this comment
Posted by bmrforeveryone
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:09 am

How many will be BMR? Let's hope as many as possible so $2 million houses can be sold for $200,000 to the "poor".

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thanks, Katia.

I corrected the above story to reflect the fact that we're talking about the sizes of lots, not houses.

Parent, your intuition is correct.

Sorry about the error.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

how about a per house 'donation' to PIE? and a congestion tax to city?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

What is worrying here is that on the one hand we now have support for the housing while on the other hand the school board is stating that they are still interested in buying the land.

This is the ridiculous pantomime that government has to contend with. Either the housing is permitted or the school board can buy the land but it is beginning to look like the school board will lose out and then argue that they tried but didn't have enough time to act.

If the school board definitely wants this land then they must act now. All this hot air they are blowing needs action now before it is too late or it will be nothing more than pie in the sky and a pity party later when they have portables piled on portables.

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Posted by DaveV
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

I am amazed and amused where the "citizens" hyper-ventilate over adding 10 houses in this town.
Note that this came down from a project that was proposed at twice the size.
Without added housing, this community will cease to function as a viable and stable economic entity.

Like this comment
Posted by No More Houses
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:28 pm

The developers don't give up, do they? It's all about $$$$. I see this property as a perfect supplement to the Greendell campus, as a preschool adjoining an elementary school. I hope the City Council and school board don't capitulate as they did in the 70's--monster houses and no schools with a plethora of portables!!!

Like this comment
Posted by needhouses
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Use it for housing!!

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Posted by comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Interesting point above: many communities have a real estate transfer tax to benefit schools... ours does not...

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Posted by it's all about money
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

10 new homes at approx 2 mil each will bring in a lot of property tax. people who can afford these homes usually have families. they are also quite generous to Pie and other fund raisers for the schools. a few more expensive homes in south palo alto beats all those condos with families who rarely contribute extra funds to the schools. they are the ones who feel pubic education should not require contributing more money but they want the finest education for their children. their kids depend on the generosity of more affluent families.

i wish i could buy one of those homes. it should turn out to be a nice neighborhood.

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Posted by Joey
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm

My comments keep on getting magically erased by the editor of this page...

Palo Alto residents need to find out how to remove members of this "Board." It is obviously abusing its discretion and those who appointed the "Board's" members should know that their jobs are on the line too.

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

rem is a registered user.

Why don’t we have a honest City/County Council that will honestly say “Developer (Contractors) Lobbyists , Developer (Contractors), “donate to us and we will approve”!!!!”

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this PROBLEM except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people of East Charleston Road/Fabian Way or Middlefield Road/San Antonio Road or ANY of the other communities …..
Sound to me like DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT, DEVELOPMENT !!!! Gee, the CITY has messed up so much without looking back and LEARNING from the past..

Like I said ABOVE – “There is no sane reason for this except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people or ANY of the other communities…..”

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Posted by AA
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

I find tremendously sad the assumption by some that bigger houses equal more donations and that families in condo's or appartments don't pay as much or seem to expect more while paying less. For the record we own a home in this neighborhood (and have been Palo Alto residents for over 20 years, long before we had children) but that doesn't make us any more entitled than others in our community who live in condo's or apartments to a great education for our children. It would be interesting to see $$'s per square foot contributed from larger houses vs condo's or appartments before making these generalized comments.
Having volunteered in the classroom at a midtown elementary I can safely say that just two or three additional kids per class has a huge impact on the level of education our children receive. The teachers do an amazing job but simply have too many children per class. I'm not saying that new housing should be banned but that there should be open dialogue between what the city wants and what the city is able to accommodate.
Let's not make generalizations based upon what we perceive people are able to donate, while it's undoubtedly true that some families with larger means give more its by no means a certainty and the assumption that by the same token those in smaller dwellings give less is equally erroneous.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Why not just go back to the level of 1970 and forget all the nasty "development". And golly, developers actually want to make MONEY? For shame!

Like this comment
Posted by pa mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Since concern about growing class size is mentioned, I have a question: are we required to continue hosting kids from other school districts no matter how big our class size is? Does anyone know?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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