Even by Palo Alto standards, Harold Hohbach's seven-year quest to build a mixed-use development featuring condominiums and research space on Page Mill Road has been a long slog, featuring five applications and two lawsuits.
Hohbach's latest chance to win the city's approval for the three-story building at 195 Page Mill Road, near Park Boulevard, will take place tonight (Monday), when the City Council is scheduled to consider his application.
The project's history is riddled with procedural stumbling blocks, zone changes and litigation, mostly stemming from the site's location over groundwater that contains volatile organic compounds stemming from the Hewlett Packard-Varian Plume.
Since 2004, the proposal has been on a rollercoaster ride through Palo Alto's approval process. The City Council narrowly approved it in 2006, but was forced to rescind the approval the following year because of a lawsuit from land-use watchdogs Bob Moss and Tom Jordan. The Superior Court ruled that the city should have reopened the project's environmental analysis to public review after making some changes to it.
After slight revisions, Hohbach returned in 2008 with a new application. Then, in early 2010, the then-88-year-old developer responded with a lawsuit of his own, claiming that the city is essentially stalling and waiting for him to die. The city, he claimed, is "eventually destroying Hohbach's ability to complete the project in light of his advanced age."
The most recent snag came last August, when the Planning and Transportation Commission voted 4-2, with Daniel Garber and Eduardo Martinez dissenting, to reject Hohbach's proposed tentative map. The commission argued that placing research-and-development space could create a health hazard for the residents living in the two floors above this space.
At that meeting, Moss argued that the project should include provisions requiring periodic monitoring of indoor air samples. The environmental analysis for the project calls for less stringent measures, including a vapor barrier and a ventilation system. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has jurisdiction over the toxic plume, has approved these measures.
Current Planning Manager Amy French also noted in the staff report that the city has other examples of housing built over a toxic groundwater plume, including senior housing at the Campus for Jewish Life.
Hohbach's current proposal would include 84 condominiums, including 17 units of affordable housing. Staff is supporting the project because of its proximity to the Caltrain station on California Avenue and the fact that the site is listed on the city's inventory of future housing sites. In a report, Current Planning Manager Amy French, wrote that staff believes â€œthe proposed project and subdivision are consistent with the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan," the guiding document of the city's land-use policies.
Last month, Hohbach wrote a letter to the city attacking Moss' arguments that the project's environmental measures are insufficient and its location near the Caltrain tracks is far from ideal. He maintained in his letter that the measures in the environmental documents are "more than adequate," but offered to fund a "one-time monitoring event" upon request from the City Council.
The project, known as "Park Plaza," is "greatly needed in Palo Alto," Hohbach wrote.
"It provides R&D space with housing to provide a live-work environment which is close to a Caltrain station and bus routes," Hohbach wrote. "The Project is within easy walking distance of California Avenue restaurants and a shopping district with numerous stores, including a Molly Stone grocery store.
"All of these will help reduce the use of the automobile."
The City Council meeting will begin at 5 p.m. with a closed session to discuss Moss' lawsuit against the city. The council will consider the environmental analysis for the project and its tentative map later in the meeting, which will take place in the Council Chambers at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.).