A proposal to demolish Facebook's former headquarters at Stanford Research Park and construct four new office buildings at the Page Mill Road campus is facing criticism from residents who say the development exceeds Palo Alto's zoning regulations and needs to be scaled down.
The plan submitted by Page Mill Road Property LLC calls for demolishing the two existing buildings on the 13.5-acre site and building four new two-story buildings. Collectively, the four buildings would have 265,895 square feet of office space, same as the existing structures. The new buildings would be positioned around the periphery of the site, around a central plaza.
But even though the new development would have the same amount of floor space as the existing buildings, residents are raising concerns that both the existing and new project violate the density requirements in the city's zoning code. Specifically, both projects exceed the allowed floor-area ratio by about 31,000 square feet.
Stanford University, which owns the research park and operates it through long-term ground leases, acknowledged in a letter that the former Facebook campus includes an excess of square footage, but because this excess already exists, Stanford should be grandfathered in when it comes to reviewing the new application.
Tiffany Griego, managing director of Stanford Research Park, responded to residents' concerns by pointing to the unusual status of Stanford Research Park, which the university is prohibited from selling. All of the 700-acre Stanford Research Park consists of one legal parcel, Griego wrote in an Aug. 7 letter to the city. The excess was created by a lessee who split the leasehold in 1998 when applying for the new development at 1117 California Ave., a project that was based on that split.
"Given the University's many decades' long practice of establishing lease lines for the purpose of complying with zoning standards, the situation at 1050 Page Mill Road appears to be either an exception or an anomaly," Griego wrote. "Research of available internal records does not provide much information about the circumstances or decision factors at the time."
But residents Jeff Levinsky, William Ross and Doria Summa, all of whom spoke out against the project on Wednesday night, argued that the situation is not so much an "anomaly" as a violation of the city code.
Stanford, they maintained, broke the rules in 1998, when the new development exceeded the floor-area requirements, and the new development should remedy this by bringing the project to code. Grandfathering should only occur for projects that were developed before 1989, when the city last had a major revision to its zoning code, they said.
"Stanford and its tenants violated laws 10 years after the cutoff date, so they are not eligible for grandfathering," Levinsky said.
He dismissed Stanford's explanation of the excess square footage as an exception and its argument that the floor-area plan should remain at 265,895 square feet.
"Apparently, what Stanford is saying is if you only break a law infrequently, then it's OK," Levinsky said. "If you take Stanford's logic, it's OK to move a lot line and create an illegal parcel and then claim grandfathering for it."
The Planning and Transportation Commission, which on Wednesday night was reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Report for the project, didn't take any votes on the proposal, which is still being analyzed by planning staff.
City planner Jodie Gerhardt noted that the site has a maximum floor-area ration of .4, which means that the total square footage of development cannot be more than 40 percent of the site.
Both the existing floor-area ratio and the proposed project are .45. Gerhardt said because the existing and proposed ratios are the same, staff believes the project may indeed be grandfathered. She also said that she understands the community's concerns and told the commission that staff is completing its floor-area-ratio analysis, which will be presented to the City Council before a decision is made on the project.