With Palo Alto in the market for a new downtown garage, developers are stepping forward with offers to build the city a parking structure, provided they get permission to build something else in return.
Eight different developers have responded to the city's recent request for public-private-partnership proposals.
One bid is from the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which proposed to build a housing project on the lot at Emerson and High streets. The project would replace a 78-space lot with a 148-spot structure. It would also, however, add a housing project that requires 173 parking spaces under the zoning code, resulting in a net loss of 103 spaces.
The two finalists chosen by the city's planning staff for further exploration are offering dramatically different proposals. David Kleiman has offered to build a 237-space, three-level underground garage on Lytton Avenue and Emerson Street, a corner that currently includes a 68-space lot. The new structure would feature an automated lift system that allows vehicles to park in an "elevator-like docking station," according to a staff report. The vehicle would then be "moved through the use of a mechanical system and stored underground."
The catch? Kleiman would also be allowed to build a mixed-use development with retail and 18 apartments at the site. The new development would require 94 spaces, bringing the total parking-supply increase to 75 spaces.
Kleiman, who recently developed mixed-use projects at 636 Waverley Ave. and 240 Hamilton Ave., is proposing a parking component that he argues will "not only increase the City of Palo Alto's supply of off-street parking, it will maximize the use of this presently underutilized site."
Kleiman's two recent developments were both designed by architect Ken Hayes, who is also a member of Kleiman's team for the parking structure. Each withstood an appeal from residents who argued that the proposed building's modernist design conflicts with the traditional architecture around it.
Kleiman, however, maintains that the new buildings will be a good fit with the surrounding area.
"The project will be realized in a manner that complements the surrounding neighborhood while simultaneously promoting the City's goal of promoting walking, bicycling and the use of public transit, due to the project's design and its proximity to the Downtown Caltrain Station," Kleiman's proposal states.
The ground floor retail, he wrote, "will serve to liven the streetscape at this location, and the housing will introduce new residents to the downtown zone while also minimizing the number of parking spaces required for the development when compared with a similarly sized office building alternative."
The other proposal that staff is recommending for further consideration comes from Ark Studio West and includes a 283-space parking structure on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street, which currently includes an 86-space lot. The proposal also includes retail on the ground floor, which would require 29 spaces. It also comes with a major stipulation: The entire downtown would have to switch to paid parking, with daily rates assumed to be around $17.50 per day.
According to the firm's proposal, retail is included to "increase pedestrian liveliness and invite additional users to the location." The proposal also includes design alternatives that feature office space and a rooftop terrace. The uses in the proposed development could include "food vendors and office space, or other uses to be determined in the future," the proposal notes. The structure would also include a bike storage and changing room, an electric-vehicle charger and solar panels.
The firm lists as its goals for the project to improve downtown's urban streetscape, promote environmental sustainability and provide high-quality architecture. Strikingly for a parking development, it also includes as one of its goals getting people out of cars. One goal includes to "encourage new development around transit stations, locations with bicycle and pedestrian connectivity, and city services to allow residents and employes to meet daily needs without the use of cars."
Another goal is unlikely to please critics of new development: "Encourage such development to maximize allowed densities and intensities to take advantage of these locations."
The city's solicitation of private proposals is part of a package of actions that the council approved on Feb. 10 to address downtown's severe parking shortages. The package included the exploration of a satellite parking lot on Embarcadero Road, technology upgrades to existing garages and an increase in permit sales to downtown employers. The direction to solicit proposals from private parties was taken by a 7-2 vote, with Karen Holman and Greg Schmid dissenting.
The council will hear presentations about the Kleiman and Ark Studio West proposals on Monday and consider the city's next steps in the quest for a new garage.
Council members and residents have long preached the need to increase downtown parking supply. In June, the council included a downtown garage as a priority item on its $126-million infrastructure plan. With an estimated cost of $13 million, a downtown garage is one of the projects that the council plans to fund by leveraging proceeds from the hotel-tax increase, which will appear on the November ballot.
During the Feb. 10 meeting, the council majority supported soliciting proposals from the private sector, a decision that Larry Klein called "innocuous." Holman was more cautious about soliciting proposals from developers and urged her colleagues to slow down in pursuing a new garage. It remains to be seen, she said, what the parking demand will be once the city introduces a new residential parking permit program and unveils a transportation-demand management program aimed at getting people to switch from cars to other modes of transportation.
"I think it's premature to go forward with garages at this time," Holman said.