Palo Alto on Friday afternoon put the finishing touches on approving a highly controversial development on Maybell Avenue, though the battle over the project appears to be far from over.
In a highly unusual move, the City Council last week scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Friday to give a "second reading" to its earlier approval of the development at 567 Maybell Ave., which includes 60 units of seniors housing as 12 single-family homes. Friday's vote was largely a procedural formality given that the council had already approved the project on June 17.
The council voted 7-0, with Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman absent, to approve the project. The item was on the council's "consent calendar," which bars discussion unless three members agree to pull it off the calendar. Councilman Greg Schmid was the only council members who supported doing so.
The project at Maybell and Clemo Avenues has galvanized the Greenacres and Barron Park neighborhoods, with hundreds of critics attending public hearings, submitting letters and signing petitions in opposition of the project. Most maintained that while they support senior housing, they oppose the zone change that would enable the project. The "planned community" zone allows developers to build at a greater density than is normally allowed in exchange of "public benefits." In this case, the primary benefit is housing for low-income seniors.
The council's approval paves the way for a possible citizen's referendum, which has been threatened by opponents in the weeks leading up to the approval. Bob Moss, a Barron Park resident and long-time critic of large developments, warned the council Friday that its approval will lead to negative consequences for the city namely, a referendum.
"And I'm confident the referendum will pass and the approval will be rescinded," Moss warned. "It's going to create some really nasty environment in the city in the meantime."
A referendum would require 2,298 signatures, or 6 percent of the residents who voted in the last municipal election, according to City Clerk Donna Grider. She said she usually recommends that additional signatures be gathered because of the likelihood that at least some will be invalidated.
The Maybell project was proposed by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which has been building and managing affordable-housing developments for the past four decades. Months before the approval, the city had loaned the housing corporation $5.8 million to purchase the land, leading many area residents to complain that the process is rigged. Several opponents have threatened to sue the city, prompting the council to schedule a weekend retreat two weeks ago involving staff, Scharff, Housing Corporation officials a group of residents opposing the project.
Though the retreat didn't bring about any compromises, the council agreed to reduce the project from 15 homes to 12. Council members agreed that the project's traffic impacts will likely be lower than those of other projects that could potentially be built at the orchard site under existing zoning. Even with the increased density, staff expects the impacts to be lower because seniors are less likely to drive than other residents, particularly during peak commute hours.
On Friday, Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the Housing Corporation, thanked the council for its decision.
"We know we will generate less impacts than any other realistic development (at the site)," Gonzalez told the council Friday. "And we do have a lot of supporters behind us."