A proposal to build a four-story development at the present site of Shady Lane on University Avenue is facing a challenge from neighbors, who argue in an appeal that the modern structure will destroy the character of their largely Victorian neighborhood.
The appeal filed by Michael Harbour targets 429 University Ave., the latest development designed by architect Ken Hayes. The city's Architectural Review Board approved the project last month after two public hearings. On both occasions, residents who live near the site protested the size of the project and argued that its traffic impacts would overwhelm the narrow Kipling Street. The largely commercial development will also include four residential units and retail space on the ground floor.
Harbour, who owns property at 421 Kipling St., argued at the Feb. 19 meeting that the project would create a traffic hazard on Kipling Street, which is so narrow that it "effectively functions as a one-way street."
"I think many people in the community think this is a massive building," Harbour told the board. "Kipling is not the same as other streets out there."
In the appeal, Harbour notes that he has been hit twice on Kipling Street while in his car. In one case, he was sideswiped. In another, he had a side-view mirror torn off his car.
"If this building is built, the narrow road will be critically beyond its capacity and accidents will increase," he wrote in the appeal.
Parking is another issue that the appeal takes up. Though the new development would include an underground garage with 40 parking spots, this is far fewer than the 92 that the project would normally require under the zoning code.
This is because the two buildings that 429 University Ave. will be replacing had each paid parking "in-lieu" fees to the Downtown Parking Assessment District. In addition, the project is relying on the "transfer of development rights" program, which grants developers parking and density exemptions for rehabilitating historical structures at other sites in the city.
At the Feb. 19 meeting, Chair Randy Popp acknowledged that downtown parking is a problem but argued that it's not this particular building that's causing the problem. He also said he would be "very surprised if this building gets appealed on this basis," and said he believes that an appeal would have no standing if it focused on parking. The board then voted 4-0, with Catherine Ballantyne, absent, to approve the project.
Parking, however, is just one item in a menu of concerns laid out in the appeal. Opponents are also bemoaning the fact that the project will result in a loss of retail, a hot-button issue for the city at a time when small shops are struggling to pay rising rents. Few stores epitomize this better than Shady Lane, which is moving to Menlo Park for this very reason. Though the new building would have about 7,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, it is replacing two one-story buildings that between them have about 9,000 square feet, according to the appeal.
The appeal calls this a "devastating level of loss when the city is trying to preserve retail."
"Furthermore, retail loss reduces pedestrian interest and thus hurts other retail in that vicinity of University and Kipling as well," the appeal states.
Yet the bulk of concerns revolve around the size and design of the project issues that were also central to two other recent appeals of Hayes projects. The project, the appeal argues, "is not compatible or harmonious with its surroundings."
"This is where the developer and the architects have failed," the appeal states. "It neglects its unique Victorian neighbors. It also neglects its neighboring historical storefronts. It will tower over all of them as if to deny their legitimacy and declare them inferior and obsolete. While doing so, it will create permanent problems including safety, traffic, potential loss of existing street parking, congestion, and a loss of retail space and tranquility."
The appeal maintains that during the review process, "very little attention was given to the historical significance an unique architecture of Kipling Street and how it relates to University Avenue."
"Kipling is enjoyed as an important pedestrian thoroughfare," the appeal states. "It is the most preferred walking route from Downtown North and Johnson Park to University Avenue due to its beauty, tranquility afforded by the narrow street, and nostalgic period feel. The proposed building with its disproportionate size, discordant design, and resultant traffic and parking will permanently destroy the character of the street and the pedestrian environment."
Harbour is not alone in challenging the project. His appeal is co-signed by nine nearby property owners, including various Kipling Street residents and businesses. AZIZA Beauty Salon, Vino Locale and Lidia's Skin Care are among them.
Much of the appeal centers on the building's modernist architecture, which appellants say is incompatible with the largely Victorian homes on Kipling Street.
This is the third Hayes project to face a citizens appeal in the past year and a half. In each case, critics argued that the modern, glass-heavy designs clash with the surrounding neighborhood. Ultimately, the council agreed to uphold the Architectural Review Board's and staff's approval of both 636 Waverley and 240 Hamilton Ave.