A proposal to demolish two stout commercial buildings at the heart of University Avenue's commercial district and replace them with a four-story development is meeting a mixed response from the community, with some downtown residents saying that the new 50-foot building will damage their quality of life, and others arguing that it's exactly what the city needs to bring more vitality to the area.
The proposal by property owners Jamie and Elizabeth Wong calls for replacing two one-story buildings at 429-447 University Ave. with a development that would include retail on the ground floor, office use on the second, three apartments on the third and a mix of residential and commercial uses on the fourth. Designed by prolific architect Ken Hayes, the new building will have a "cubic framework" and a terrace on the fourth floor that will set it back from the bottom three stories.
The city's Architectural Review Board is set to comment on the Environmental Impact Report for the project on Thursday, though the board will not be voting on the development at this time.
City planners wrote in the report that the project is located in the "heart of the Downtown District" and while noting that the building will be "taller than most buildings in the neighborhood," also argue that the building's frontage on University Avenue is "compatible with the urban context." Many neighbors disagree. Some have submitted comments arguing that the proposed building is too tall and that its traffic impacts would be too severe. The proposal comes at a time when the city is struggling to contain downtown's parking problems and preparing to unveil a Residential Parking Permit Program that will restrict workers' ability to park in residential areas.
Linda Anderson, a resident of Bryant Street, called the Hayes proposal "one more assault on the DTN quality of life that already has been seriously eroded by development 'exceptions' causing what may or may not be 'unintended consequences.'" The new building would go up on the corner of University and Kipling Street. The buildings slated for demolition currently includes the store Design Within Reach and the craft-and-jewelry shop Shady Lane, as well as former sites of yogurt store Red Mango and clothing boutique Fashion Passion.
Becky Baer, who lives on Lytton, wrote that over the years, she and her neighbors "have witnessed an alarming transformation of our beloved downtown area."
"The first offense was the hideous Cheesecake Factory building, which in no way reflects the style of the area," Baer wrote. "The current proposal ... is another nail in the coffin. Already there is inadequate parking for the buildings in existence."
The sentiment is far from unanimous. The city has also received comments from several residents, including developers, voicing support for the project. One was local attorney John Hanna, who wrote that the new project "is exactly what we need more of in Downtown Palo Alto."
"We need more residential downtown to make it possible for people to live and work in town (as opposed to commuting), and we need more parking downtown," Hanna wrote. "This project fulfills both of those needs, and ... adds to the tax base and improves the aesthetics of that corner considerably."