News


Palo Alto: Three-story building proposed for Olive Garden site

Existing restaurant would be demolished, replaced with mixed-use development

In the latest sign of the construction boom happening around California Avenue, Palo Alto planners are considering a proposal to demolish the Olive Garden building on El Camino Real and replace it with a three-story development that would be four times as dense as the existing structure.

The proposal by prolific architect Ken Hayes calls for merging two parcels at 2515-2585 El Camino Real and building a 40-foot-tall development with 13 residential units, office space and retail on the ground floor. It would be just down the street from another development proposed by Hayes: a four-story office building that would go up on a currently vacant parking lot on the corner of Page Mill and El Camino Real.

While Hayes' proposal for 2755 El Camino Real initially sought zoning exceptions through the controversial -- and now suspended -- planned-community zoning process, the Olive Garden project would conform with existing zoning regulations.

Much like nearby developments -- such as the block-long mixed-use project at 3159 El Camino Real, around Equinox Gym; the recently approved office development at 385 Sherman Ave.; and the three-story building replacing the old Club Illusions at 260 California Ave. -- the proposal for 2515-2585 El Camino Real illustrates the untapped potential of existing zoning.

While zone-busting planned-community projects have borne the brunt of community ire (as evidenced in last year's referendum over a housing development on Maybell Avenue), the Olive Garden property shows that the building boom around California Avenue needs no zoning exceptions to proceed. Because it complies with existing zoning, the project in many ways epitomizes the constraints the city faces in its efforts to limit office development and address the parking problems in its two busiest commercial districts -- downtown and California Avenue.

The project would be located on the east side of El Camino Real, between Sherman and Grant avenues, on two parcels that would be merged. The two parcels are currently zoned for "neighborhood commercial" and "community commercial" use, which allows things like shopping center, supermarkets and mixed-use projects.

The ground-floor restaurant would share the space with offices, while the 13 apartments would occupy the second and third floors. There would also be offices on the second floor, according to project plans.

The building front would parallel El Camino Real and a plaza would face Sherman Avenue, the application states.

Though the building density at the site is almost certain to increase, the project's design is still evolving.

On Nov. 20, the city's Architectural Review Board held a preliminary review for the project, which by definition includes no votes, and offered a mixed response.

Chair Randy Popp called the building too "horizontal" and "monolithic," though he acknowledged that the city's height limit severely restricts an architect's ability to pursue a more vertical organization. Though he focused the bulk of his comments on the project, he reserved some criticism for the city's 50-foot height limit, which drops to 35 and 40 feet in certain zones that abut residential neighborhoods.

"The height limit is a disaster for architecture because you just can't articulate the building in the right way with the buildings that we have," Popp said. "It's terrible."

Other board members also expressed some concerns with the look and feel of the proposed development, which board member Alexander Lew said has some similarity to the controversial Alma Village development.

Lew said he is concerned that the building will be "too oriented toward the back and the parking." He also said he likes other recent developments, including the Equinox Gym project and College Terrace Centre, better than the one proposed for the Olive Garden site.

Catherine Ballantyne focused on the building context and suggested that Hayes consider reorganizing his site plan. She also questioned whether the proposed building really fits in with its surroundings.

She noted that the six-story building directly across El Camino Real is a "massive concrete structure" and asked whether the city has a responsibility to somehow "balance" that structure with whatever is built at the Olive Garden site.

"I wonder if this building, as it's proposed, is the right building for El Camino right there, considering its mass and the way it's contextually integrated," Ballantyne said.

At the same time, the board generally had good things to say about Hayes' site plan and his proposal to include the plaza. Though board member Kyu Kim suggested that the office area at the corner of Grant and El Camino Real be made more "open to the public," he ultimately called the proposed development "aesthetically pleasing" and "a good project."

Popp also praised the organization of the plan, including entry points, plaza and parking layout, though he stressed that many architectural details need to be refined.

"Aesthetically this feels massive and undefined in some ways," he added.

The project will need to undergo a formal review by the architecture board and a site and design review by the Planning and Transportation Commission before it gets the green light. Hayes is expected to return to the architectural board some time in the next few months with a revised proposal.

Comments

15 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm

I hope the new city council will ensure no density exceptions beyond code. Naturally, I prefer NO office development or apartment additions. However, I recognize the private owner can demolish existing buildings for upgrades; as long as within code. We just need to make sure we don't change zoning to allow more dense housing or office space.


7 people like this
Posted by too dense
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 26, 2014 at 9:17 am

Where will all of these children going to go to school who would move into the apartments? The schools are already becoming maxed out? The are is becoming too dense and causing major traffic congestion. Not to mention creating hazardous conditions for bikers and pedestrians.


2 people like this
Posted by yippie!
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

sounds like a good development, and good use of the area. I'm also glad to see that the city can stay within existing zoning codes and build a good mixed use development! PC Zoning wasn't used very often, but every time it has been used, it is seen as undermining current zoning codes. This is an improvement.


8 people like this
Posted by gh
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2014 at 10:29 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

Parking, parking, parking. Not a space less than zoning. None of this in lieu of flim flam. What about an infrastructure charge for say rail over or underpasses?


9 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

NO, NO, NO. No more damned building in Palo Alto. El Camino is already like a parking lot from 2PM to 7PM. I know the City Council does not care because they don't live in Barron Park.
No more office buildings or mixed use buildings. And NO MORE LOW INCOME HOUSING IN BARRON PARK. There are already low income apartments and condods in Barron Park. We are tired of the city ALWAYS dumping these people in Barron Park.
Leave the Olive Garden alone, it is always full and the parking lot full and is a successful low cost restaurant for families.


12 people like this
Posted by Yikes!!!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2014 at 11:05 am

What part of NO don't they understand? The N or the O?

Oh, it's about what comes AFTER the NO--development.


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Nov 26, 2014 at 11:25 am

>What part of NO don't they understand? The N or the O?

Probably the part where the project complies with existing zoning, so whether or not it should be "allowed" isn't actually up for discussion?


5 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 26, 2014 at 11:27 am

Please stop building in Palo Alto and consider using the existing vacant spaces. Redevelop the area on El Camino between Charleston and Fernando! This stretch of El Camino has been an eyesore for 20+ years.


5 people like this
Posted by jerryl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 26, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Where are families supposed to go when they feel like going out
for dinner or want to have dinner with visiting relatives?

One by one, the options diminish.
I would dearly love to read an analysis of why this is happening
in Palo Alto. It seems like all the things we liked to do when
my kids were young and all the places we used to go to are gone
or soon to be gone.


3 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 26, 2014 at 2:03 pm

jerryl,

If you have lived here for the last 10 years, you know very well what is going on? No need to act surprised. How much has the value of your house gone up in that time?


1 person likes this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm

KP is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2014 at 2:26 pm

KP is a registered user.

OH and Chris...I don't know how others feel, but
I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE VALUE OF MY HOUSE GOING UP...I am not moving or selling!


2 people like this
Posted by chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

OMG. That corner is crazy already. Where is Olive Garden going? It is a chain, but one that has reasonably priced food. Well, hopefully the new occupants will shop at the new Chavez market nearby. But, probably not.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by PG
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 26, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Enough greenish-glass boxes. Can't the developers at least find another architect?


1 person likes this
Posted by What??
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2014 at 5:34 pm

> Where are families supposed to go when they feel like going out
> for dinner or want to have dinner with visiting relatives?
[Portion removed.] With Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos within a 10-15 minute drive, and San Francisco within an hour drive--why would see yourself restrained to the handful of restaurants that one can find here in Palo Alto?

Use Google and put together a list of restaurants that you've never even heard of, and given them a try next time you want to take visitors out for a meal.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm

What became of our favorite community member who always suggested Baumé on Cal Ave?


4 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 27, 2014 at 10:11 am

The recent election shows that a change is desired for City Council with regards to development, but it sounds like there is a bigger issue; how do we as a city reform the Architectural Review Board? These are not elected officials but have so much power in how our city looks. Just because this project conforms to the existing zoning, is the Board required to approve it? It sounds like there was discussion about this project, but that the decision to move forward was made.

A three-story, dense structure in that location that merges two parcels seems way out of proportion for the area. It seems like some Board members agree, but blame the height limit:

"Chair Randy Popp called the building too "horizontal" and "monolithic," though he acknowledged that the city's height limit severely restricts an architect's ability to pursue a more vertical organization.... "The height limit is a disaster for architecture because you just can't articulate the building in the right way with the buildings that we have," Popp said. "It's terrible.""

Well perhaps to be attractive and appropriate for the area the project should stick to two stories instead of three? We have enough ugly buildings in south Palo Alto. Do we need to approve another one?

I would love to see more info on how the Architectural Board Members are chosen, how to influence change there. There is something seriously wrong here.


3 people like this
Posted by Tired of greed
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

First, time and again ... what is with all the extra traffic? Another bogus "traffic analysis" with dozens of pages of meaningless numbers, smoke and mirrors, and the conclusions "no serious impact ... blah-blah"?

Second, it is greed and only greed. No, vanity, too. There is absolutely no reason for the new offices to be located near Cal Ave in PA. Why not in MV, or Sunnyvale? There is development there, too, but at least the cities are much bigger.

When PA is finally packed so badly that the traffic and parking is total gridlock the value and prestige of this location will finally go down but who cares? These committee and council members will be gone by then ... hopefully. We are to live in this chaos.


3 people like this
Posted by Sherry
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2014 at 10:57 am

I feel for those of you who will be affected by poor city council choices regarding over development in the California Avenue area. I feel your pain. One thing your area has going for it is a new city council that will be stepping in soon and can hopefully work at saving your quality of life. Sadly, It's way too late for downtown.


4 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm

When I moved to Palo Alto in the 1970's the city had a very charming character - lots of trees and plants, a variety of architecture, including beautiful rustic Spanish-style homes and commercial buildings. However, we're losing that character with so many contemporary concrete/glass commercial buildings, ugly multi-unit complexes, and unattractive color schemes. In addition to increasing setbacks etc, we need to reverse the current trend and build more traditional structures, especially with Spanish influence. I hope this is considered for any future projects in this city.


7 people like this
Posted by Another Hayes big box
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm

This architect is hired again and again because of his track record with the Planning Department. He clearly knows how to grease the skids there. An investigation is in order.
It's grease that does it, not architectural talent that wins the dollars time and again.


2 people like this
Posted by Across the street
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 1, 2014 at 4:30 pm

UG- of course this project is announced shortly after I move in across the street. I agree with others- it would be better to develop further south on El Camino to replace some of the depressed blocks/empty storefronts. I face the Olive Garden and cant personally attest that the parking lot is mostly full and they do a great business! I don't know if I would call Olive Garden "low-cost" but I hate that they would replace a mid-priced restaurant that people can afford with more stupid condos. I pray this project falls through.


2 people like this
Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

There is an easy solution. The city can use eminent domain to buy the property at the market price and turn it into a mini-park. Presto, no increased traffic or pressure on schools. All we need to do is pass a parcel tax to raise the money. Should work out to about $75 per year per parcel or even less if we use bonds.
Time to put our money where our mouth is, eh?


1 person likes this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Is there a decent compromise? Can the developer knock down the existing building with the promise to contribute to a viable parking garage nearby AND allow the Olive Garden to have a restaurant on the first-floor premises for at least ten years?


1 person likes this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 4, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Back in the 1960's, the original building there was a family restaurant called Stickney's Golden Chicken. (Stickney also owned a more-scale restaurant on the other side of El Camino, where Cibo is now, and Stickney's Hickory House at Town & Country, where Scott's is now.)


1 person likes this
Posted by Across the street
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:17 pm

I just got a notice about the other construction project directly across El Camino from the Olive Garden at 2500 El Camino that starts on Jan 23 which will have 70 multifamily affordable apartments above ground floor retail (Web Link). That's in addition to the stalled 2755 El Camino project mentioned in this article. Don't we have enough new boxy modern apartment buildings going in on this block?? That will 83 new multi-family units literally facing each other on either side of the street! I can't believe that they're going to get approval to convert a functional business into more housing units.


Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 22, 2015 at 1:58 am

[Post removed.]


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

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