Embattled Page Mill Road project up for fresh hearing

Palo Alto City Council to consider Harold Hohbach's proposed three-story building near Caltrain tracks

After years of disputes, appeals and revisions, a developer hoping to construct a three-story building on Page Mill Road and Park Boulevard will return to the City Council tonight in hopes of finally getting the green light for his contentious project.

Harold Hohbach has been trying to build the mixed-use development at 195 Page Mill Road for more than five years and had even succeeded in getting the City Council's approval in 2006. But since then, it's been rough going for the project, which includes research-and-development space along with 84 rental units. The council's approval was ultimately revoked because of a lawsuit from residents who claimed Hohbach hadn't done enough to evaluate the impact of vapors emitted by contaminated groundwater under the site.

Since then, Hohbach had resubmitted his plan and switched the housing component from rental units to condominiums. More recently, he switched back to rental units, with 17 of 84 designated as below-market-rate apartments. The plan, however, hit another stumbling block in October when council members criticized the development's design and directed Hohbach to resubmit his proposal. The council concluded in October that the project conflicts with the city's Comprehensive Plan (its land-use bible) and directed Hohbach to apply under the "pedestrian- and transient-oriented development" (PTOD) designation, which can only pertain to projects near major transit hubs (the site is currently zoned for "general manufacturing").

Councilman Pat Burt argued at the Oct. 3 meeting that the proposed layout, with its large walls and interior courtyards, would be too massive when viewed from the outside and would not appeal to pedestrians. Councilwoman Karen Holman then directed the applicant to return under PTOD zoning (which would lead to, among other things, a less dense project), a request that her council colleagues backed with no dissent.

So far, however, the developer has resisted the council's direction that he revise the project and resubmit it under a different zoning designation. Jim Janz, Hohbach's attorney, wrote a letter to the council last week criticizing its finding that the project conflicts with the city's Comprehensive Plan.

Janz encouraged the council to green-light the project, which has already received the blessing of the city's Architectural Review Board (albeit, by a 3 to 2 vote). Janz asked the council to approve the project, deny the opponents' appeal and "allow the Project to proceed to obtaining a building permit and begin construction as soon as possible, thus providing much needed rental housing with 17 affordable units and R&D space for Palo Alto."

The council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. tonight with a closed session. Regular meeting will follow in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Related stories:

Hohbach gives Palo Alto an ultimatum

Page Mill Road development hits another snag


Like this comment
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

Wow. Palo Alto deserves the mess it's in. Have a revenue issue City of Palo Alto? Want to raise taxes or cut services? Instead, why don't you actually make it possible for people to get projects done? I wonder how much tax revenue would come from vacant lots and eye sores that have proposed, mixed use, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by grant
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

enough is enough let him build

Like this comment
Posted by Follow the rules,
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2012 at 11:05 am

Actually, he hasn't presented anything to date that is compliant with code. Council could not approve the previous projects without breaking the law. I support their decision on this one.

Hohbach needs to read the Comp Plan, municipal and zoning codes and comply as developers and individual property owners are required to do all over the country. Mr. Hohbach should stop asking for special treatment.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 4, 2012 at 11:43 am

Too massive when viewed from the outside and would not appeal to pedestrians?? Hasn't stopped other recent projects.

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Posted by James
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2012 at 11:54 am

Why do we have zoning ordinances?

When should Council require a project to comply with existing zoning? When should exceptions be made?

The answers to these questions tells you whether a project should be approved, or not.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Enough is enough. Turn him down flat as he has shown no interest in complying with PA zoning or its comprehensive plan.

Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

If you want to know why everything in Palo Alto is so expensive.... This is why.

Its not the School district, the QUALITY of Life, the INTELLIGENT people or any thing else.

Its because of this kind of senseless backwardness.


Like this comment
Posted by Horrific
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Let's face it we have an obsolete Comp Plan. A Comp Plan that encourages new urbanism eg buildings right up to the sidewalk like the Rickey's Hyatt development should be hanned in Palo Alto.

Until the Comp Plan is changed no new commercial or apartment housing should be approved. Dump new urbanism!!

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Developer Holbach has abused the process from the very beginning. For example, in the first go round, he wanted the City to close the adjoining section of Page Mill Road (between Park and the tracks) and _donate_ the land to him. He would then re-pave it for parking spaces and a basketball court for his tenants. But he declared this to be a "public benefit" that would entitle him to grossly exceed the zoning ordinance. A statue in an inner courtyard was also called a "public benefit".

This has been a long process because developer Holbach has repeatedly overestimated how many exceptions to the zoning ordinance he could bully the City Council into giving him. Any "hardship" for him has been self-imposed.

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm

"Its because of this kind of senseless backwardness."

Right on, friend. Holbach could have had his project years ago if he had been reasonable.

Like this comment
Posted by concernedcitizen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Hohbach should be given no benefit of the doubt.
He said that open space would be maintained for the public in his last development, then he sealed it off and rented it to Cafe Riaci.
Hohbach has attempted to intimidate the City repeatedly, including a law suit. He is an attorney who has used legal bullying in the past and now is playing the "old man" card.
Insist that whatever he promises be iron-clad and insist he follow the rules.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Compare what Holbach has gone through versus what the council & city staff did with the Lytton Gateway... They want less density from Holbach, and grant a huge variance in density for the Lytton Gateway.

Holbach's mistake is he didn't hire Jim Baer; when Jim Baer is involved, comp plan & higher density doesn't matter to the city council & staff.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Monroe Park

on Jun 5, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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