With Palo Alto's controversial "planned-community" process suspended indefinitely, a developer who was hoping to win the zoning designation for a four-story project at the prominent corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road is now pursuing a different strategy.
The City Council will consider early next year a new plan for a largely commercial development that is slated to go up at a site long used by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for a parking lot. The predominantly commercial building at 2755 El Camino Real, would include three levels of underground parking and two residential units in addition to office space.
The proposal from Pollock Financial Group and architect Ken Hayes has been in planning limbo since the council decided in February not to accept any more "planned-community" (PC) projects until the process for approving them is reformed. The process, which critics have long derided as "zoning for sale," allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated public benefits. Recent developments that have relied on this designation include the new Survey Monkey headquarters 101 Lytton Ave.; the College Terrace Centre development at 2180 El Camino Real and the renovated Edgewood Plaza.
Recent history has not been kind to PC proposals. The Palo Alto Housing Corporation saw its proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue (which relied on planned-community zoning) overturned in 2013 after a citizen referendum. And Jay Paul Company withdrew last year its PC proposal for a new office complex at 395 Page Mill Road (a project that included as a public benefit new police headquarters), citing the city's political climate.
When the council adopted by a 7-2 vote (with Larry Klein and Gail Price dissenting) a moratorium on PC projects in February, 2755 El Camino Real project was the only proposal for this zoning designation in the city's pipeline. The council also specified by a 5-4 vote (with Pat Burt, Klein, Price and Greg Scharff dissenting) that the moratorium should apply to this project. At the time, the proposal called for four stories of commercial space and the tenant was slated to be First Republic Bank.
Reflecting the view of the council majority, Councilman Marc Berman acknowledged at the February meeting that a "time-out" on PC projects is needed because "the process we are currently using is broken and needs to be fixed." He added that it doesn't seem "appropriate" to consider any PC projects until that's done.
Now that the PC process remains suspended, the development team behind 2755 El Camino Real has come forward with a Plan B. It is asking the city to rezone the site from "public facility" to "community commercial," a designation that would allow the desired density without the ad hoc negotiations associated with PC zoning. The project is still four stories, but now it also has a small residential component.
The proposed development is one of many in the area around California Avenue. Hayes has also proposed adding a commercial development at the Olive Garden site on the 2500 block of El Camino Real.
Developer Harold Hohbach currently has several large mixed-use developments in the midst of construction and the council recently signed off on a block-long development at 3159 El Camino Real, around Equinox Gym.
Though the developers behind 2755 El Camino Real filed their revised designs in early November, a formal application for a community-commercial zone change isn't expected to be submitted until after the council holds its "prescreening" session, a public hearing at which members will offer their early thoughts on the project without taking any votes. The council agreed earlier this month to "prescreen" the new proposal for 2755 El Camino Real and the hearing is currently scheduled to take place on Feb. 2.
A recent report from city planners notes that if the council approves the new zoning proposal, the developers will still provide the "public benefits" that it had offered under its PC application. These items, according to the report, include "land dedications, subsurface rights, and curb gutter and sidewalk replacement, all of which will enable needed improvements to the intersection of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real."