News

Palo Alto set to rule on downtown 'Gateway' building

Proposed development would include offices, retail, space for a nonprofit organization

A revised plan to build a prominent "gateway" building at the downtown intersection of Alma Street and Lytton Avenue in Palo Alto will be the subject of a public hearing tonight.

The latest proposal is a scaled-down version of the original plan, which included a five-story building that exceeded the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments. If the City Council approves a "planned community" zone for the project at 355 Alma St. tonight, the new development would be four stories high and would consist mostly of office space, including an area for a nonprofit office that would be rented out at a subsidized rate.

The project, in its original five-story iteration, has already cleared the city's Architectural Review Board and its Planning and Transportation Commission. At its previous hearing on March 12, the City Council was generally sympathetic to the idea of allowing a large, dense office building to occupy a prominent spot near the downtown Caltrain station. But council members shared the concerns of residents from the adjacent Downtown North neighborhood who argued that the new development would exacerbate the area's parking problems.

In exchange for exceeding the city's zoning regulations, applicants Lund Smith, Boyd Smith, Scott Foster and Jim Baer are proposing an "in-lieu parking" fee of about $1.5 million and funding for a downtown parking study. The applicants' package of "public benefits" also includes $1.25 million for affordable housing; about 3,800 square feet of ground-floor retail; four electric-vehicle charging stations (two outside and two more in the underground garage); eight surface parking spaces available to the public and 16 more underground spaces that would be open to the public on nights and weekends; and various landscaping and road improvements.

While applicants estimate the value of their public benefits at $6 million, the city's planning staff notes that some of these "benefits" are actually provisions that the applicant has to meet to attain lower parking requirements for the project. Nevertheless, Planning Department staff is recommending that the council approve the project. Planner Jason Nortz wrote in a new report that staff believes the applicants' proposed contributions "are valuable and meaningful and that the overall package of benefits is substantial and appears to respond well to Council's direction."

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The council meeting will begin with a closed session at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Related stories:

Editorial: Money as a 'public benefit'?

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Palo Alto set to rule on downtown 'Gateway' building

Proposed development would include offices, retail, space for a nonprofit organization

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, May 14, 2012, 9:35 am

A revised plan to build a prominent "gateway" building at the downtown intersection of Alma Street and Lytton Avenue in Palo Alto will be the subject of a public hearing tonight.

The latest proposal is a scaled-down version of the original plan, which included a five-story building that exceeded the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments. If the City Council approves a "planned community" zone for the project at 355 Alma St. tonight, the new development would be four stories high and would consist mostly of office space, including an area for a nonprofit office that would be rented out at a subsidized rate.

The project, in its original five-story iteration, has already cleared the city's Architectural Review Board and its Planning and Transportation Commission. At its previous hearing on March 12, the City Council was generally sympathetic to the idea of allowing a large, dense office building to occupy a prominent spot near the downtown Caltrain station. But council members shared the concerns of residents from the adjacent Downtown North neighborhood who argued that the new development would exacerbate the area's parking problems.

In exchange for exceeding the city's zoning regulations, applicants Lund Smith, Boyd Smith, Scott Foster and Jim Baer are proposing an "in-lieu parking" fee of about $1.5 million and funding for a downtown parking study. The applicants' package of "public benefits" also includes $1.25 million for affordable housing; about 3,800 square feet of ground-floor retail; four electric-vehicle charging stations (two outside and two more in the underground garage); eight surface parking spaces available to the public and 16 more underground spaces that would be open to the public on nights and weekends; and various landscaping and road improvements.

While applicants estimate the value of their public benefits at $6 million, the city's planning staff notes that some of these "benefits" are actually provisions that the applicant has to meet to attain lower parking requirements for the project. Nevertheless, Planning Department staff is recommending that the council approve the project. Planner Jason Nortz wrote in a new report that staff believes the applicants' proposed contributions "are valuable and meaningful and that the overall package of benefits is substantial and appears to respond well to Council's direction."

The council meeting will begin with a closed session at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Related stories:

Editorial: Money as a 'public benefit'?

Comments

Cynthia Suri
Community Center
on May 14, 2012 at 10:14 am
Cynthia Suri, Community Center
on May 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

I suppose the idea of a building in that space isn't so bad, but this one is just so generic and so ugly.

Can't the City be more selective with the design? Please find an architect with some style! The public should have a say in the kind of building that goes up. Since this isn't up for discussion, it seems like the City has made up its mind and this eye-sore will become the new gateway to our City. YUK!!


Don
Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 10:17 am
Don, Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Robert
Stanford
on May 14, 2012 at 10:31 am
Robert, Stanford
on May 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

That's a totally undistinguished building that after the gloss of novelty wears off will soon look like a giant eye-sore on the face of downtown Palo Alto. I'm appalled that we have so little taste as to approve a piece of architectural mediocrity like this, just to get a few sub-market housing units and a non-profit office. The worsening of parking will be noticeable and no one seems to care about it. Funding a "traffic study" is rubbish. The building will add hundreds of new cars in downtown, face it. Palo Alto CC members don't seem to care one bit if slowly but surely the city is being transformed in a giant downtown traffic jam.


KP
South of Midtown
on May 14, 2012 at 10:35 am
KP, South of Midtown
on May 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

I am so tired of the people in OUR city council making screwed up decisions for us. We have certain restrictions for a reason.
Why do some people THINK that they are SO SPECIAL they can change the rules to suit them? JCC !!! for starters, Cal Ave and now this? I just don't get it.


Realist
Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2012 at 10:46 am
Realist, Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2012 at 10:46 am

Cynthia, private developers will only undertake a project if it is capable of achieving their required rate of return. The 355 Alma project is just a four story building, with only so much leasable space.

I'm sure you will agree that "architects with some style" are more expensive than generic architects. Likewise, constructing an architecturally distinctive building is more costly than slapping up the big, bland box that is being proposed by the developers.

Apparently, the Palo Alto community has decided that $6 million worth of subsidized NGO space, $1.25 million for offsite "affordable housing", electric charging stations, public parking studies, and cash "in-lieu" payments are more important "public benefits" than constructing a gateway to our city that we can be proud of. Can't have everything!


comp plan please
Midtown
on May 14, 2012 at 10:49 am
comp plan please, Midtown
on May 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

The developers are betting that they've put enough lipstick on this pig to get Council to say yes. Business as usual. Any bets?

Just the mere fact that the applicants are tallying funds needed to meet requirements as money to "public benefits" should be a red flag that this project is being "sold" with every trick in the book, rather than a meeting of a building site with legitimate public needs that would have gone unmet with the current site zoning. Another bank branch as retail "public benefit"? Have you ever thought "we are sorely lacking for another bank branch here in downtown Palo Alto; let's subsidize a developer several million dollars in benefits to build one"?


Cur Mudgeon
Greenmeadow
on May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am
Cur Mudgeon, Greenmeadow
on May 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

So very tired of this--city "staff" in bed with developers. We have zoning for a reason!!! Quit circumventing it, obey the law. City council needs to represent the VOTERS, not the developers.


Cynthia Suri
Community Center
on May 14, 2012 at 11:42 am
Cynthia Suri, Community Center
on May 14, 2012 at 11:42 am

No no!! Please don't waste our precious money on a "parking study!"

I'll provide your answers for FREE. OK, here they are: by adding more cars, you will need more parking and there WILL be more traffic downtown.

Whew! Did I just spare us from dumping more money down the drain? :)


Watch the City Council
Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 11:50 am
Watch the City Council, Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

I agree with Cur Mudgeon, <city "staff" in bed with developers.> No question about it. If only the newspapers would uncover it.
Tonight we will see which councilmembers let it happen. Listen to the meeting on your TV or computer, listen for the excuses they will give for letting Jim Baer have his way yet again. Another oversized underparked building.
Will they give the Chamber of Commerce subsidized office space? Can't wait to find out.


money for nothing
Crescent Park
on May 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm
money for nothing, Crescent Park
on May 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Yeah, at last the city council is allowing folks to buy exceptions to zoning regulations. Bye, bye that house vs. plot size restrictions, hello mega-mansions!!!


What The?
Palo Alto Orchards
on May 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm
What The?, Palo Alto Orchards
on May 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm

For years the same folks who consistently post their malignant nonsensical theories once said the public unions ran the city. Now they claim the developers run the city. Heres an idea, if you don't agree withe the people running the city, don't continue voting for them. Why continue to vote for councilmembers who conveniently look the other way when developers propose eliminating "public benefits" from new structures? Why continue to pay an inept city manager over $500,000 in pay and benefits? Why continue paying over $250,000 for a Planning Director who works for the developers? Why pay a Chief Building Official over $250,000 in pay to ignore or exempt building enforcement regulations for major projects? You can sit and complain or actually take back your rights as residents of this city from the incompetent fools currently running the city. My sense is that the majority of those posting comments on this forum will simply choose to sit back posting comments into cyberspace and be content with the status quo. What a pity!


Linda
Menlo Park
on May 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm
Linda, Menlo Park
on May 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Make sure the benefits the developers are offering have extremely tight and hard contracts to bind them. Then there are also the "after the approval" changes to the original design that come into play.

How about just a cute shuttle station there - instead of more congestion to our communities...


resident
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm
resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Zoning and height limitations were created for a reason. This precedent of exceptions to building codes is short-sighted. Well thought-out architectural aesthetics are essential, too. I agree with
Cynthia Suri and Linda. Too, the "goodies" offered by the developers will come and go, but a building of questionable appearance will remain. This is not a design that should be identified with Palo Alto.


T Peak
Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm
T Peak, Downtown North
on May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Everyone who comments should also send their comments to the city council. Further, come sit at the meeting tonight at 7pm. It is boring as anything but you do get 2 or 3 minutes to fell like you are being ignored as you remind the city council that they were elected to represent residents, to preserve a decent city to live in and to uphold the comprehensive plan and current zoning laws of this city. They were not voted into office to plan mega-cities and shove "new urban planning" theories down our throats that give developers millions of extra square footage while overcrowding the city with required ABAG housing, overcrowding our schools with more students than they can hold, clogging the streets and ruining quality of life in the city. But only a massive turnout at a council meeting will ever get their attention.


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