New housing proposal for Maybell Avenue site set for review

Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board to get first look at 30-unit development on Dec. 1

A year after Palo Alto voters struck down an approved housing development on Maybell Avenue, the city is preparing to review another housing plan for the 2.46-acre site in the Green Acres neighborhood.

The new plan, like the one that the voters rejected last year, would bring dozens of housing units to the old orchard site at the intersection of Maybell and Clemo Avenue.

Aside from that, the two proposals have little in common. The one last year, which was proposed by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, included 60 units of affordable housing for seniors and 12 single-family homes that were to be sold at market rate. Though the City Council unanimously approved the project, it ultimately collapsed after a citizen referendum that culminated in the defeat of Measure D last year.

The new plan is being proposed by Golden Gate Homes, a developer who bought the site from the Palo Alto Housing Corporation earlier this year. It includes a total of 30 two-story homes at a site that currently includes four homes, for a total increase of 26 units. According to the site map, the proposed development includes five homes along Maybell Avenue, four homes along Clemo Avenue, and five more at the opposite end of the property from Clemo, immediately next to Arastradero Park, an affordable-housing complex.

The other 16 units would be in the interior of the property, arranged in a "duet" style with eight buildings and each building including two units connected to one another at the garage level.

Though the site map and the buildings' designs will require approval, the new proposal, unlike the one last year, will not require a zone change. The site includes two parcels with different zoning designations. The larger of these is zoned R-15, which allows low-density multi-family housing.

The homes would range in size from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet and each would include a garage capable of accommodating two cars.

In the application, Yurong Han of Golden Gate Homes notes that the number of units proposed for the site is significantly fewer than the zoning allows. If the developer were to provide affordable housing and take advantage of density bonuses, the project could yield up to 46 units, she noted. Han wrote that she believes that proposing fewer units than is allowed makes the project "more consistent with the surrounding neighborhood."

Han wrote in the application that in designing the project, the development team "studied previous proposals and the neighborhood's response to those site concepts, as well as preferences for the Property as expressed by neighbors."

"Far from simply trying to maximize development on the property, we believe we have created a viable, attractive and well-appointed project that is respectful of the neighborhood in which the property is located," Han wrote.

The Architectural Review Board is scheduled to consider the project on Dec. 18. This will be a preliminary review, which means no vote will be taken.

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9 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 27, 2014 at 10:27 am

Making the comparison a little more direct, there will be no 4-story building, and only 18 houses more than the proposed plan, in other words, 18 houses instead of a 60-unit 4-story building. (Actually, only 15 houses more than the original proposed plan.. ) The properties along the park will not be 3-stories buildings. The properties will all have adequate parking. There will be fewer houses on Maybell.

That's the good news. The proposal may be within zoning technically, but it's wrong to say they could get 45 units - unless this Council changed the comp plan so that we no longer have important gradual transition between zoning protections? The part adjacent to R1/R2 is supposed to be on the lower end of density, 8- units per acre, not 15. That can be opposed through the subdivision process, so it's wrong to say neighbors have no recourse.

The big picture is this represents not just a failure of the existing Council, but is a monument to their petty vindictiveness. The article makes no mention of the 100 trees that will be bulldozed, including a nesting redtailed hawk who will lose its habitat. Nor that saving the orchard in the heart of this neighborhood was really the last chance for a community space in the heart of the part of town that includes Gunn High School, Terman Middle Shool, Bowman, Juana Briones, and the OH. This Council was quick to forget that these same neighbors organized to meet with every Councilmember prior to the rezoning, to basically sell themselves as assets to the City who would find a way to save the orchard and build the housing, perhaps even better, but were not taken seriously. The article makes no mention that the City had to consider just after last election, whether to exercise it's right to purchase the property. Had they not been so bent on showing those uppity neighbors, and purchased the property, they could have sold the houses 6 months later and gotten the orchard for parkland for free.

That'll show all those kids on bikes who will never have the benefit of ZERO extra traffic on their only safe routes to school, and a community space that would have enabled a better quality of life over here!

3 people like this
Posted by Facts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Parent, how can you accuse the City Council of "petty vindictiveness," when no civic body has yet evaluated this proposal? This story is about a new proposal, not any city action on that proposal.

7 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Dear Facts @ Old Palo Alto

The City had first rights to the property. Taking the money being spent for the City Hall lobby remodel ($4.75 million) plus the ballooning budget for the California Ave remodel ($7 million) would have been sufficient to buy the properties.

The City Manager said the city didn't have the money to purchase the property. But he really meant that he and the current city council wanted to spend money on their own pet projects, as well as show the residents who's in charge.

Thankfully 3 of the current council will be gone in January, and hopefully we will get a council which will listen to the residents.

6 people like this
Posted by Quercus
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Plans are located at:

So no affordable housing is included?
I wonder what the selling prices will start at? $2M?
All cash offers from international buyers?

5 people like this
Posted by should fly
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I predict the plans will sail through the CC with absolutely no outcry from community members. The developers were wise to stick within the current zoning and not include any affordable housing units. The new development will clearly impact nearby PAUSD schools, as well as increase traffic, far more than the former PAHC one. However, the likelihood that it will enhance, rather than potentially decrease, the value of nearby homes will undoubtedly mitigate any concerns of nearby residents.

2 people like this
Posted by Parking
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 27, 2014 at 7:46 pm

We need parking, not more density. Turn the site into a parking lot and run shuttles to and from it.

4 people like this
Posted by Cheryl LIlienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 27, 2014 at 9:50 pm

The developer asserts that the proposal complies with zoning. It doesn't. Members of PASZ took a closer look and notified the planning dept of some calculation errors and safety problems.
Although it is on the agenda for Dec 1, I received a notice from Jodie Gerhardt that the item is
deferred to either the December 18th or January 15th ARB hearing to give staff additional time for Code analysis.

From PASZ members: The development has too many buildings, lacks open space, and the interior buildings exceed maximum lot coverage.

The interior is very similar to the stack and pack Alma Village and Monroe Place, but with all buildings having two above grade stories instead of three. (Maybe there are basements but it's not in the preliminary plans)

There is nothing like this type of development in the surrounding neighborhood. Nor should there be: it's just too dense.

2 people like this
Posted by Ha. Ha. Ha.
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 27, 2014 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Funny
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 28, 2014 at 9:59 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

@Facts ,
Perhaps you should read the public commentary from the City meeting in early December last year, just after the election, in which the City Council was considering whether to exercise its right to purchase the Orchard property. Neighbors met with the new planning director almost as soon as she arrived, only to hear that the staff were going to tell the Council to do nothing. Greg Scharff is reputed to have regrets about not saving the orchard.

Like I said, they could have sold off the houses six months later and gotten the orchard for free. Anyone who has lived here for very long and understood market conditions could have seen that.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

I don't think anyone who lives here thinks even this development outcome is nearly as impactful as what was on the table before.

But that won't stop an effort to ensure it complies with codes and safety.

In fact, the City Council has broad responsibilities and powers when it comes to safety. Look at the City Charter. They have a policy of heightened scrutiny of developments on school commute routes, not just the developments where rezoning takes place. Unfortunately, the last City Council never saw fit to exercise their power to do what they could about safety there, for example, defining the safety or traffic studies that should be done.

The City has a responsibility there to the thousands of children whose only routes to school are on either side of that property, one a substandard street (Maybell), as they do to taxoayers who face liability if the City does nothing after Councilmembers expressing the belief that a market-rate development there was unsafe and failing to exercise their ability to purchase the property and place deed restrictions on it to prevent the safety problems.

Let's hope the new Council is a little more concerned about safety and quality of life.

Like this comment
Posted by Trees
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm

The joke, of course, is on the people who love trees. The neighborhood had already rebuffed an attempt to build a school on that site because of the traffic issues at that site. And then there was the outcry over the fewer, much less beautiful, slated-to-be-torn-down trees on Cal Ave. For a City Council in love with developers - How to neuter the tree lovers and bulldoze the trees at the last remaining orchard in town? An orchard with 100 trees, with roots so deep, they produce fruit and don't need watering? An orchard with a nesting red-tailed hawk that has for decades served as an important piece of the patchwork for wildlife from the foothills to the bay?

The sad answer to that question lives somewhere in the bile of posters like Funny and Ha Ha, who delight in thinking someone will get away with bulldozing the trees and make the commute less safe for the thousands of kids going to school at Gunn, Terman, Juana Briones, Bowman, and the OH (people who delight in knowing the trees will never be there for the kids in wheelchairs in the school and rehab center across the street - some restoration of "civil" discourse you brought us there, Cory, those are your core supporters).

6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Each time a new housing development is built in Palo Alto, real estate prices go up, the town becomes even less affordable, and the pro development crowd whines that we need to build more housing in order to make Palo Alto more affordable.

6 people like this
Posted by Sense
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 28, 2014 at 9:18 pm

The best way to reduce traffic on Maybell is to put Arastradero back to 4 lanes. That is the cause of so much Maybell traffic, and new houses (or not) won't change it.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 1, 2014 at 9:11 am

Certainly, the City never dealt well with the traffic issues, making strange arguments about the traffic coming from within the neighborhood (no one owns that many Teslas, sorry....)

But any development there will add traffic to what is a substandard street without room for even a single standard continuous sidewalk or bike path. The parking on the street already causes kids to weave dangerously. The other street, Arastradero, is the only other route and the amount if traffic continues to increase there, too, as the City has granted zoning exception after zoning exception. Many major developments havent even finished yet and the traffic is terrible. There are no other routes to the schools for thousands of kids. That property impacts both routes. (The opportunity to save the orchard also makes the least traffic.)

The neighborhood was already long dealing with safety issues at that location, including the major safety overhaul of Maybell just prior to the rezoning. The trouble is that there was only ever so much that could be done. Add to that the sudden transformations in traffic and noise from all the development.

This isnt just a problem of capacity but of infrastructure, cumulative impacts of development, and a prioritzation of development over safety by the City. Going back to 4 lanes won't magically make another route to school appear for the kids. (Though
I'm not defending how they did that restriping project.)

2 people like this
Posted by Out of Whack
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Is it just me, or is the City Counsel completely out of whack with its constituency? Residents of Barron Park and Green Acres have demonstrated their capability thwart high density housing, as defined by the City and by the laws of common sense. The composition of Palo Alto is rapidly changing from a city comprised of unique individual neighborhoods to one that is beholden to development groups. While there is an immediate need for housing, there is an equal if not greater need to preserve the integrity of the Palo Alto's sense of community. The Maybell site is the last apricot orchard in the neighborhood. Like many have already stated, the acreage could have been used as a community space; both honoring Palo Alto's history, while blending it with its innovative culture. Shame on the "Negligent Nine".

5 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm

@Out of Whack - It doesn't matter what the constituency of the City Council wants if this project is within current zoning. The only way to prevent it would have been to buy the property as a Park, which since there is a park across the street, wouldn't make a lot of sense.

1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm

PA resident has it right. Since this project conforms to the zoning (however flawed that might be), the city could stop it only by buying the property. But it needed the money to remodel the city hall lobby.

1 person likes this
Posted by Out of Whack
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2014 at 4:56 pm

@palo alto resident and @curmudgeon - The City of Palo Alto did own the property and elected to sell it to the Golden Gate whatever group. I think an homage to the neighborhood's past, predominantly orchards, would be a great use of the land. Sure there is a park across the street, but what's wrong with an additional 2.5 acres of open space for the public's enjoyment? Just a thought.

3 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm

The city does not own the property anymore. And as others point out, if it conforms to proper zoning, little can be done to stop it. Despite the carryng on of the new "residentialists" on the council and PASZ.

2 people like this
Posted by Trees
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2014 at 5:05 pm

@palo alto resident,
Actually, the fact that the orchard is right across the street from an existing park and would then be an extension of the existing park (and together would still be smaller than most major parks in town) -- as well as the fact that it is the last historic orchard in Palo Alto, and retaining it as an orchard would keep down the traffic on the safe routes to school to zero increase -- is one reason it made a whole lot of sense to buy it.

Residents in Greenacres and Barron Park went before the council and even asked them to just consider buying the park and letting the residents come up with the money to reimburse the City. After all, Barron Park neighbors basically bought Bol Park to save it from development. On the less well-healed side of town, apparently we have to buy our own parks while paying our fair share for the parks on the other side of town. But we would have done it.

It's now not a question that if the City had bought the property when they could have, they could have sold off the houses some months later and gotten the orchard for free. They should not have let their own personal umbrage and vindictiveness overrule their obligations to the children of this town and to safety. They all expressed the opinion that a market development was less safe than the previous proposal, and if so, they should have purchased the property and placed restrictions on it before selling it, even if it cost the City money, because safety is their first obligation. However, in hindsight, discharging their duty to safety would have also gotten us a park for free and saved the 100 trees.

1 person likes this
Posted by Trees
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2014 at 11:58 pm

@ Agenda,
The City never owned the property. The City was involved in the sale of the property to PAHC and by virtue of the loan agreements (it loaned $7.3 million for PAHC to purchase the property, but did not itself own the property -- actually, it loaned $5.8 million, but guaranteed to the state that it had loaned $7.3 million -- the $1.5 million was to come from the for-profit developer after the developer got the upzoning on the 60% of the property that was market-rate/for-profit.)

But when PAHC decided not to pursue something else closer to existing zoning and to sell the property, the City had the right to purchase it in a non-competitive situation -- first right of refusal -- and considered whether to do this almost one year ago in a public discussion. Had they purchased the property, they could have waited 6 months and made so much more money on just the houses, they could have gotten the orchard for free. They could have used the Stanford money, it was disingenuous to say they didn't have the funds.

No, there is absolutely no explanation for what they did except spite towards an "eclectic" (Liz Kniss's words, said with a sneer) part of town that stood up to them. Scharff has recently admitted it was a mistake for them not to buy the orchard.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident 99
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

Interesting how all the residentialist/anti affordable housing peeps are ok with this large development because it is within the zoning but if it's downtown it's to hell with the zoning and the greedy, evil developers that follow the zoning there.

Like this comment
Posted by bland name
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 2, 2014 at 10:26 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

An earlier post predicted that this proposal would sail through without community opposition and offered a number of supporting reasons.

It's not worked out that way. PASZ leadership put Golden Gate Homes on notice that it would oppose the project for a variety of reasons related to traffic, safety, and zoning among other issues. The ARB delayed consideration of the proposal until its January 15 meeting, presumably for city staff to have time to review the issues raised before the ARB begins its review.

In an interesting development, Golden Gate Homes has issued an invitation to attend a public discussion of the plan, as well as several adaptations now being drafted, on January 8, a week before the ARB review. The meeting will be from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm at Cubberly, Room H-1.

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