A proposal to redevelop a 0.52 acre lot in downtown Palo Alto is currently percolating, with the 13 new residential units at 430 Forest Ave. to replace the current AAA office building.
The property which was purchased in March 2013 by developer Prabhas Kejriwal and a partner is already zoned for high-density housing (RM40), and the proposed buildings designed by Palo Alto architect David Solnick would need no exceptions for that zoning. However, some residents from surrounding lots raised concerns about the impact of the increased density.
The planned development, modern in appearance, would include two buildings: one three-story building in front with five two-bedroom units on the first two floors and a penthouse unit on the third floor; and a duplex in back offering two two-story units with attached garages. Parking for the other units would be located below grade.
Kejriwal is not new to building and development, and he shepherded a few single-family projects in Palo Alto years ago, as well as a multi-family project in Mountain View in 2007. An electrical engineer by profession, Kerjiwal also pushed this project to incorporate sustainable design elements, aiming to make the buildings "net zero" for energy usage and qualify for a LEED Platinum award.
The project appeared for its initial review before the city's Architectural Review Board (ARB) at its Nov. 6 meeting last year. Architect David Solnick, who is a former ARB member himself, gave the presentation, expressing his excitement about pursuing the project.
"I've always been a strong proponent of dense downtowns," Solnick said, "and have had the good luck to do a number of houses here, including some houses and some small multi-family projects in the downtown, both for clients and on my own."
But neighbors directly behind the project on Homer Avenue were not equally enthused, voicing concerns with how taller building just beyond their fence would affect the light, privacy and quality of living they thought they were getting when they purchased property there.
Palo Alto resident Mike Egbert told the ARB that, as configured, the project would seriously affect the amount of natural light his residence gets, and that occupants of the duplex on the back of the property would be looking directly down into his life from their balcony.
"The concept of density is a great idea if you're a developer, but I'd continue to hate to see downtown Palo Alto turn into an anthill, with people on top of each other," Egbert said.
In their comments, members of the Architectural Review Board responded to these concerns. Former board member Clare Malone Pritchard asked Solnick if the balcony could be reconfigured. She also suggested Solnick prepare visual examples of what the development would look like from the neighbors' property.
However, with the exception of Robert Gooyer, who disliked the project's layout and design, most board members at the time were in favor of the project and thought it compatible with the surrounding area, despite there being a few historic properties in the vicinity.
Solnick thanked the board for their comments and suggestions and said that they would definitely be looking into the issues raised.
Kejriwal told the Weekly that he hopes for the formal review before the ARB to take place in April, and if all goes as planned, to start construction mid-year.
Yvonne Jernigan, branch manager at the Palo Alto AAA office, declined to comment about the development or when or where the AAA operation there might be moving.