Developer Harold Hohbach is demanding the Palo Alto City Council accept his plans for a three-story building at 195 Page Mill Road as is or face potential litigation -- again.
Hohbach, 89, has been seeking city approval since 2005 for the mixed-use housing and research-and-development project. But the beleaguered Park Plaza project has been mired in lawsuits and rejections.
Land-use watchdogs Bob Moss and Tom Jordan sued Hohbach in 2007, arguing that the proposed building doesn't include sufficient safeguards to protect residents from a toxic plume under the site. Then Hohbach sued the city in 2010, claiming the city was stalling the project.
The latest disappointment for Hohbach occurred on Oct. 3, when the council criticized the project's design and asked him to return with a new application under the zoning known as pedestrian and transit-oriented district.
Hohbach asked council members to reconsider their decision, saying it would force him to completely redesign the project.
On Wednesday (Oct. 26), he sent a letter to the council, offering a way to rapidly move the project forward. Pursuing a new zoning designation would be prohibitively expensive for Hohbach Realty Company and the process would incur additional design costs and would take another year, he argued. He would be 90 years old on Dec. 3 and wants to complete the project in his lifetime, he said.
So Hohbach is proposing to make the 84-unit residential portion rental only on a permanent basis.
"No condominiums -- but otherwise as presented at the previous hearing. Proposed below-market-rate (BMR) units would remain so for 30 years," he said.
Hohbach challenged the council to approve or deny the project as it now stands. Failure to do so would force him to abandon the project and turn it into strictly 50,467 square feet of grandfathered research-and-development space. And he warned that all of the housing would be lost.
The proposed project is substantially the same as one approved by council in 2006 (which subsequently expired), he argued. He warned that he could again sue the city if the council rejects his proposal.
"Should the city repeat its conduct now, the applicant's only option would be to renew that litigation. HRC's losses have only increased over the past year or so and the estimated damages now exceed $2 million," he wrote.
In February 2010 he argued in federal court that the city lengthened the project's approval process needlessly by re-circulating the environmental-review document and forcing him to agree to more mitigation measures than are normally required.
The city was forcing him to build too many affordable-housing units and to comply with zoning requirements that did not exist when he initially applied for the project, he said.
He also charged that city officials engaged in such conduct to prevent him from completing the project before he dies.
Hohbach, a patent attorney, is no stranger to lengthy litigation. In the mid-1960s he wanted to build one of the city's tallest buildings, Court House Plaza, at 260 Sheridan Ave.
He built four stories of the original project and deferred the other six stories when he couldn't secure funding. In the meantime, pressures to limit the height of buildings took hold and in 1974 the council limited building heights to 50 feet.
Hohbach sued, arguing then as he has now that the city dragged its heels. He spent 16 years in court and eventually lost.