News

Homeowners protest 50-foot office building proposed next door

Palo Alto City Council is to hear neighborhood concerns Monday, June 1

A planned 50-foot-high office development with a shadow that neighbors said would plunge their home into darkness could receive final approval by the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night, June 1.

The proposed building at 2555 Park Blvd. would tear down an existing 10,800-square-foot two-story office building and build a new 24,466-square-foot three-story building. But Jared and Alice Jacobs, whose Sherman Avenue home is next door, said the Architectural Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission erred when they recommended approval of the building, parts of which would be 13 feet higher than the city's 37-foot limit.

The Jacobses and their neighbors, who are also concerned with the project and its traffic impacts, plan to take their concerns to the council in hopes of nixing the project in its current form.

The Jacobses' home is located in a mixed-use neighborhood that includes largely multi-unit housing and offices. Their single-family home was zoned as a "nonconforming use" when it was built in 1990 by a previous owner, they said.

But that fact does not disqualify them from city zoning protections, including rules that require projects to limit sun and shade impacts on abutting properties, they said. The project would darken most of their large first- and second-floor southeast-facing windows, including their kitchen, living room and master bedroom, for most of the year, they said.

"The house has been standing for 25 years, and our residential use has no expiration date," the Jacobses said in an 8-page letter to the Council regarding why their residential rights should be considered.

"If the project is built, our entire rear boundary will face a very close 37-foot concrete wall with a small tree sandwiched in front instead of the immense sky, sunrises and diffuse natural light that we enjoy today," they wrote.

The development is the latest in a series of tugs-of-war between residents in the neighborhood and the city's vision for the district, which would allow for mixed-use, higher-density housing near the Caltrain corridor and more intensive office development to make the area a thriving start-up and tech hub.

Other residents are expected to attend the council meeting tonight to object to the project's traffic impacts, Jared Jacobs said. Park Boulevard, which is an arterial street connecting the California Avenue retail district with Oregon Expressway, has been the subject of parking and traffic-safety concerns among numerous residents.

The city's Architectural Review Board and Planning and Transportation Commission have already voted to support the development, which also has the blessing of the city's planning staff. City planners also recommend granting the developer, Tarlton Properties, the height exception. The extra 13 feet would allow the developer to include in the design two stair towers and a "tensile roof" structure that staff argues would "add a visual element to the building."

The roof structure would be "set back from the edges of the building, to avoid adding to the perceived height and massing and to protect privacy," according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

The planning commission also requested that the applicant perform additional analysis on the building's shadow impacts. According to the staff report, the applicant studied shadow impacts at nine times of the day and year and concluded that the structures that increase the building's height "would result in a minimal shade impact on the residential neighbor's home."

From the neighbors' perspective, shadows aren't the only concern. The Jacobses claim that a parking and vehicle-trip analysis for the project underestimated the car queuing to enter the parking area, which would cause a backup on Park Boulevard and negative traffic impacts to California Avenue and the El Camino Real and Page Mill Road intersections.

There is already scarce public parking in the vicinity, and there is a good likelihood that building tenants may choose to fill the available street parking instead of waiting 1 to 2 minutes for the parking machines under the office building, the Jacobses said. The building is also near the proposed police station on Sherman Avenue at the Santa Clara County Superior Court parking lot, which would further tax area traffic and parking, they added.

The City Council meeting takes place at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Jun 1, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Sounds like the problem is residential uses encroaching on a mixed-use neighborhood.


9 people like this
Posted by Forward
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 1:13 pm

The City Council should deny this appeal. This building will bring much needed jobs to Palo Alto.


5 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

I'll look it up, but it would have been nice if a map was part of the article.


15 people like this
Posted by finally
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Right near the train station; next to California Avenue, Organ Expressway and Alma; two four-story buildings just down the street, this actually seems like an unusually good place for a 50ft building.

Tear down the out-of-place single-family house and build a parking garage.


21 people like this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 1:45 pm

The City is all for mixed-use when it allows developers to pack in more stuff. So inconvenient to consider the people who live there, isn't it?

I hope they do appeal.


25 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 1, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Extremely odd to me when folks bought homes right next to train tracks or mixed use neighborhood and then file complain that their surroundings do not conform to their Mayberry street USA vision!


9 people like this
Posted by Tough One
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 2:21 pm

>> According to the staff report, the applicant studied shadow impacts at nine times of the day and year and concluded that the structures that increase the building's height "would result in a minimal shade impact on the residential neighbor's home."

Were any of the time of day during daylight? I can't imagine, looking at Google earth photos, that replacing the existing building with a 50' tall building would not impact the home's light plane. And will there be windows facing the home? If so, the upper floors would look right down into their skylights!

Not sure who's right here - the right of the home owner or the right of the building property owner, but I'm siding with the homeowner just because we don't need more office space in Palo Alto. What happened to that office space restriction and ground floor retail requirement???


15 people like this
Posted by Tough One
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm

@Me:

According to the article, the homeowners are complaining about a zoning exception for the proposed height. That seems reasonable to me.


10 people like this
Posted by Jared Jacobs
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm

For the record, the single-family home complied with all zoning regulations when it was built in 1990, and that’s why the city allowed it. But the city zoning code has changed since then, and that’s why it’s now classified as a “non-conforming” use.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Jacobs
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Also, this photo was taken in November 2013 when I was pregnant with our third child who is now 13 months. Photo cred to Robert Bradshaw of Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

Better tear down the court building


10 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 5:27 pm

> The planning commission also requested that the applicant perform additional
> analysis on the building's shadow impacts. According to the staff report, the
> applicant studied shadow impacts at nine times of the day and year and concluded
> that the structures that increase the building's height "would result in a minimal
> shade impact on the residential neighbor's home."

It is a crying shame that the planning department has not found a tool that provides 3-D rendering of buildings, and which would provide shadow generation data for every day of the year.

Here we are in the middle of the Silicon Valley, and the Planning people seem oblivious to the tools at their disposal.


11 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2015 at 6:32 pm

@Forward - Palo Alto doesn't need jobs. The unemployment rate is 3%. There are too many jobs here, which is what is driving the unreasonable ABAG housing development mandates.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2015 at 7:08 pm

I think @Forward was being facetious. No other explanation for the comment.


21 people like this
Posted by Follow the rules
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Why does the developer deserve an exception to the 37 foot height limit? Shouldn't they be made to follow the zoning rules like everyone else? What's the point in having a 37 foot height limit if the City is just going to give exceptions? I doubt a homeowner could get a 13 foot height exception for a single family home, so why should the developer of an office building get an exception. The city leaders needs to get some balls and start enforcing their own zoning laws! Otherwise, they look like a puppet. Maybe that's all they really are?


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm

"Here we are in the middle of the Silicon Valley, and the Planning people seem oblivious to the tools at their disposal."

Planning staff has the tools, but they know the results won't be favorable to the developments they advocate, so they pretend not to have them.


12 people like this
Posted by Sue the Developer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Now that their house is unsellable , and the house was there first, before the zoning randomly changed, the owners would be within their rights to sue both the developer and the city for making their house unsellable.

It will now be overshadowed by a large looming building that no one will want to live next to.

The developer and the city should buy the property for top dollar so that the homeowners can relocate elsewhere in Palo Alto, somewhere more family-friendly and zoned for R-1.

It is abominable that the city and the developer got away with doing such a terrible thing to a respectable homeowner.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 2, 2015 at 2:36 pm

@Sue, define "unsellable". I figure $2.4M if it hit the open market tomorrow.


3 people like this
Posted by Suspicious
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 2, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I don't think it is unsellable. But I do think that they will be offered top dollars by the developer so that they can knock it down and add to the monstrosity already being built.


Like this comment
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 2, 2015 at 3:55 pm

The facade of their house as much as I can see on the Web is already in shade due to its cardinal location and the taller building next door. They seem to have no windows on either side of the house, which is attached to a much higher building and so it must already be very dark. Is that why they have skylights on their roof? . The back of the house already suffers from shade projected from the much higher commercial building next door. any higher building that' s going to occupy 2555 Park Blvd even if it is two storeys is going to project shade on their house. The present building is one storey. So, get out of there. Sell at a commercial rate. You are not at all being inconvinienced because the value of your house is set on commercial rates. I am surprised that the house is a family home. Must be tough to live in that location.


8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2015 at 11:12 am

Builder and city should have to compensate homeowners for the impact of this building
in some way considering it will detract from the value of the house.

When I constantly hear the inane phrase along the lines of, they bought their house next
to whatever the problem is, and therefore they should have to live with and bear any
insult or impact that happens I just think of how many people in Palo Alto just do not
care to actually engage their brains and just want to blow off anything they hear that
might require some consideration and thought to parse or understand.


6 people like this
Posted by Think About It
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Assuming the homeowners still have an outstanding mortgage, a $2.4 million price tag, minus capital gains, will not give them enough of a down payment to get into anything else locally.

A home of that size should bring in $3+ million, but now the location will be undesirable. Lucky to get any offers at all, except ridiculous lowball ones-- guessing $1.6 million.

Hopefully some developer will offer them enough money to make up for their loss and enable them to move upwardly. This is a potential financial disaster.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I would hold out for a comparable (pre-construction/plans) property/house swap inside the PA city limits. You want my property or significantly change its value? Then move me to another similar sized home in PA.


2 people like this
Posted by noparkingspaces
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2015 at 5:17 pm

June 23, 2015
Density bonus law amendment to change to no parking required, no parking minimums, if developer requests density bonus.
AB 744 by Chau and Gonzalez has passed the Assembly and will be heard in the Senate Transportation and Housing on June 30. AB 744 adds a long, non-required section on legislative intent on density bonus, mixed-use, eliminating vehicle parking, and declares that infill development and excessive parking requirements is a matter of statewide concern and is not a municipal affair.

The League of California Cities requested a "No" vote on the Assembly Floor on June 3.

Among the reasons listed in the League of California Cities alert for voting no on this bill that will remove parking minimums:
AB 744 offers a complete exemption for senior housing, 62-plus, with no connection to transit.
AB 744 offers a complete exemption for housing for lower (80 percentage of median) income, near transit.
If you oppose this bill contact your State Senator and the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee before the hearing date of June 30.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Since we have a water shortage, how about requiring every high density project, esp. those without parking, to get NO water.


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

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