News

Research space, condo proposal heads to council

City officials split over approving 84-unit proposal on Page Mill Road

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 “the 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.).

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

OZYMANDIAS by Percy Bysshe Shelly (1918)

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2011 at 10:54 am

I believe the first floor would be General Manufacturing not Research in the current proposal. The delay in Mr. Hohbach"s project at this address is of his own making because he has not proposed a project that is in compliance with the existing zoning.


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 3, 2011 at 11:10 am

Perhaps you are correct - but all this delay is more than ridiculous. It hurts our city much more than it helps us. Had he decided to build only Condominiums or monster homes there would be no problem. OK there would still be problems as NIMBY neighbors across Alma would still sue because they can.

The idea of mixed use is widely hailed as the solution to our congestion yet it is always very difficult to get approved.

This was an eyesore before, it is a vacant lot now and unless it gets approved will remain wasted space where it could be a vibrant part of our city. It's almost enough to make me vote libertarian (but not really enough).


Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

My apologies to Shelly, I inadvertently missed pasting in the last 2 lines of his sonnet.

OZYMANDIAS by Percy Bysshe Shelly (1918)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.



Like this comment
Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm

It sounds like the opponents are using each opportunity to stall, as is typical in other communities as well from anti-development forces, however, the SMART GROWTH idea of creating housing near job opportunities AND transporation hubs will reduce emissions for any possible employees who might choose to take public transportation, or even residents who choose to "live upstairs" from their workplace in the condos.
Think about it, that is the best of both worlds, rather than creating yet another office park in the boonies that workers need to commute/pollute to daily.
I am not familiar with the project, but it sounds like a win-win from a distant perspective.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm

195 Page Mill is in a GM zone, general Manufacturing, which does not permit housing.


Like this comment
Posted by sigh
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

The Palo Alto way.


Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

My observation over the past 12 years has been that "the Palo Alto way" involves developers using the arguments put forth by Frank and Cid Young, along with (overt or implied) threats of lawsuits, to get the City to approve these large projects that don't conform with the underlying zoning. That is what Hohbach did in 2006 when he got the City Council to approve the project.

What is different is for residents to step up and fight back with a winning lawsuit, as Bob Moss and Tom Jordan did. Their lawsuit revealed how inadequately Palo Alto follows state law. So if Bob Moss and Tom Jordan have showed us a new "Palo Alto way," I'm all for it.




Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Oops, typo. Ozymandias was first published in 1818.


Like this comment
Posted by Upgrade
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

Kudos to JO for the substantial upgrade of the literary level of the posts to Palo Alto Online!

With all due respect to the posters out there, the standard posted whines of Palo Altans have no literary flair whatsoever...


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

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