News

Council to mull development proposed for Palo Alto's most congested intersection

Hearing set for Sept. 15 on revised plan for 2755 El Camino Real

When Palo Alto officials put the brakes on its controversial "planned-community" zoning process early last year, they also dealt a blow to the only development currently seeking this zoning designation: a four-story building proposed for the bustling intersection of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real.

But while the zoning process remains on hiatus, the developer behind 2755 El Camino Real is still hoping to get the green light for the project. And on Sept. 15, the City Council will have a chance to give some early feedback on the project, which should influence whether the developer can continue to move forward with the application or consider other plans for the site.

The project that the council will consider is similar to the one that was proposed in 2013, when Pollock Financial Group purchased the former Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority parking lot and applied for a planned community, a designation that allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated "public benefits."

In this case, the package of benefits included the widening of Page Mill to improve traffic circulation and an installation of pedestrian light poles as well as electric-vehicle charging stations on California Avenue.

The developer also proposed buying Eco passes and Caltrain passes for all employees at the new 32,456-square-foot building, which would include four residential units and nearly 25,000 square feet of office space. The building would be 50 feet tall, the maximum allowed by city code, and would include a mechanical roof screen that would add another 8 feet. There would also be three levels of underground parking which, along with a surface lot, would provide 109 parking spaces — one more than city code requires.

To get around the fact that planned community has been suspended, Pollock is now requesting a different zoning designation for the site, which is currently zoned "public facility." While the existing designation allows for flexibility when the site is owned by a public entity such as the city, the county or the state, private ownership restricts uses to things like parks, schools and medical facilities.

The developer hopes to change it to "community commercial" (CC2), which according to the city is intended to "create and maintain major commercial centers accommodating a broad range of office, retail sales, and other commercial activities of communitywide or regional significance."

The CC2 zone also allows for 50 percent more lot coverage and requires 10 percent less landscaped open space than the standard CC zoning, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

The report notes that CC2 zoning is in place in other sections of El Camino, close to the California Avenue business district. The city's report notes that this land-use designation is "intended for larger shopping centers and districts that have a wider variety of goods and service than the neighborhood shopping center."

The site at 2755 El Camino, however, falls outside the boundaries of the business districts and planning staff is far from sure whether this change is warranted. Other zoning options include service commercial (CS), which encourages regional services that would be inappropriate in residential neighborhoods or pedestrian-shopping areas; and neighborhood commercial (CN), which promotes neighborhood shopping areas with retail and food establishments.

For the development team, the CC2 designation has the advantage in that it would allow far more office space than the other commercial designations. In exchange for the zone change, the development team is preparing to offer the city and county the portion of its property so that a right-turn lane could be added for Page Mill drivers looking to go north on El Camino.

The team includes Jim Baer, who has helped develop dozens of planned-community projects in Palo Alto; former Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, who now works for Goodyear-Peterson-Hayward LLC; project architect Ken Hayes; and the project owner, Pollock Financial Group.

In the application, the team calls the site "an eyesore for the city and the applicant does not believe this to be an appropriate element right next to a senior living home and across the street from where our kids play soccer."

"We feel it is time to build something of which the city can be proud at this Gateway corner into Stanford Research Park," the application states.

The application calls the proposal "a compelling, appropriate mixed-use project" that "fits this anchor corner site and merits serious consideration."

Though a CC2 zone, unlike a planned-community zone, doesn't require public benefits, the applicants are preparing to offer some community benefits from the original application. The application deems the dedication of land for intersections "the most important community benefit" of the proposal.

"The owner is in a unique position to be able to offer this land, although it does come at a cost and loss of economic value to the project, as outlined below," the application states. "Therefore, as a reasonable tradeoff, an economically viable project needs to be granted in order for the project to afford the offer of land for intersection improvements."

Applicants are also proposing to contribute $90,000 for traffic-calming devices for Sheridan Avenue and $250,000 for a greater study to improve the congested intersection of Page Mill and El Camino.

At its "pre-screening" hearing, the council will have a chance to give its early feedback on the proposal. The council will not be voting on the project, though council members' feedback should help determine whether the project will continue its long journey through Palo Alto's planning process, remain on hold or get withdrawn.

Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 8, 2015 at 9:45 am

Even with Planned Community (PC) Zoning supposedly on hold, this development team is trying to wheel-and-deal their way into another large office project. It will be interesting to see how City Counsel members respond.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:23 am

Outside of the increased density / square footage waiver, are there any other exceptions requested? I couldn't tell from the article above...


23 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:39 am

Another project claiming "Gateway" status to gain building square footage. Adjacent zonings are CN or CS. Either of these are the appropriate zoning for this site - NOT CC2. If the County wants to put in a right turn lane, they can use eminent domain to get the land needed. Just say no tho this project - wrong location for this project.


35 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:45 am

The owners knew when they bought the property the uses were restricted to: "private ownership restricts uses to things like parks, schools and medical facilities."

How does a 4 story "office" building fit into this designation even if they have the required parking. It's still 109+ more cars to deal with every day.


43 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:54 am

The planning dept and city council should just say no. The city has NO OBLIGATION TO GRANT THIS REQUEST. It was denied previously because it was too ponderous, and plugs up an already congested intersection adding cars and obliterating views of the hills, yet now this zombie is back again, bigger than before...

To reiterate, this is THE MOST CONGESTED intersection in the city.
Intersection improvement proposed as being so generous is at best MITIGATION of traffic, does not preserve views of the hills, and is not a public benefit.

The VTA lot is used by commuters and takes cars off the streets, yet the developers call it an "eyesore!":
Perhaps the residents living in Sunrise and adjacent buildings should be asked whether they prefer sunlight or the eyesore of a tall building wall facing their bedrooms.


20 people like this
Posted by its coming
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:01 am

This is a great location for a fifty story, not foot, residential tower. We need more housing if we want to get people out of their cars. The 50' height rule is outdated and damaging our way of life. The future is coming/here - deal with it or it will bowl you over!


10 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:03 am

View of the hills? Who will have their view of the hills obstructed by this? A few people? Give me a break!


32 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:21 am

There are already too many people in Palo Alto. We don't need or wants ANY more office buildings, condos, or hotels. Stop the runaway building projects if you want to decrease the congestion.
PEOPLE SHOP BLCOCKS AWAY FROM EL CAMINO AND WORK BLOCKS AWAY FROM EL CAMINO SO NO AMOUNT OF BUSES RIDING AROUND EMPTY WILL STOP THE CONGESTION OF EL CAMINO CAUSED BY TOO MANY WORKERS IN PALO ALTO.


28 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:38 am

Actually there is a a height restriction on this property of 35 feet. There is a citywide code that restricts all developments even PCs from exceeding the residential height restriction of 35 feet when they are within 150 feet
of residential uses. One can Observe this on the zone map by the light blue hashing. Additionally observable is a special set back along Oregon expressway; green dashed line.

The city council should think seriously about up-zoning a property that will add my congestion to the worst intersection in Palo Alto; that had formerly ( as a VTA park and ride lot ) actually reduced traffic and congestion.

The purchaser bought a public facility zoned lot which is developable they should be asked for proposals that are
consistent with that zoning.

Just say no!


10 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:45 am

Let them build within the current zoning. The owner/developer knew what the zoning is when they bought this property. And leave room for widening that section of Page Mill by eminent domain.


32 people like this
Posted by The N or the O ?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:46 am

NO MORE DEVELOPMENT!

NO MORE EXCEPTIONS!


6 people like this
Posted by preserve pf
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:54 am

Public facility seems like an important zoning to me. We need more of it, not less of it. It may not be valuable to developers financially, but parks, schools, and medical facilities are invaluable to the community. Public facility isn’t a zoning type we are going to be converting to very often, so lets preserve the ones we have.


1 person likes this
Posted by Forward
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2015 at 11:59 am

This development will further augment Palo Alto's trajectory to become a significant city in terms of economic impacts. It will have no impact traffic wise because it is located near a transit resource.


16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Perhaps Palo alto forward

from another community has not heard….. Caltrain is at capacity during commute times.
Are you claiming somehow that you know with certainty that very single future user of the proposed building will live on the CALtrain line or the 22 Bus ?
quite amazing power to see into the future!????


25 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 8, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@its coming - "We need more housing if we want to get people out of their cars."

More housing will always mean more cars. Less housing will lead to fewer cars. We've been trying the more housing thing, and it obviously doesn't work.


16 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 12:18 pm

First, no one is guaranteed views of the hills, having said that this project will not remove cars from the road because workers who will be there are not guaranteed to be from Palo Alto, therefore it is a sure assumption that car trips will be increased. Adding only four residential units to this project is a joke and a ruse to go around zoning requirements and qualify for increased area. It will remove cars from the road if it was all residential and no offices.


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 8, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Is there someone who can tell me about the plans for this intersection -- and if any improvements are in the pipeline? This is a major intersection and the ridiculous backups need to be remedied irrespective of whatever type of tower or other developments will be placed nearby. Most of us still have cars and need to get places, and this is one of the principal intersections in the city.


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I don't know what town "Palo Alto Forward" is from, but how about if he/she turns his/her energy towards helping that one become a glorious "significant city in terms of economic impacts," and lets us in Palo Alto keep focused on traffic, schools and quality of life?


7 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 2:27 pm

@ its coming - nice attempt at being a troll. I'm not taking the bait.

@ PAF: Right. That's why they want to build a basement garage with 60 parking spaces. Nice try though.


23 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 8, 2015 at 3:06 pm

"Let them build within the current zoning. The owner/developer knew what the zoning is when they bought this property."

They probably cannot afford to build to current zoning because they overpaid for the land. The land seller would know that developers routinely get huge upzoning bonuses under the PC option for essentially zero giveback, so they kite their asking price. Developers, knowing they can routinely get huge upzoning bonuses under the PC option for essentially zero giveback, willingly pay the boosted price.

Thus our city government aids and abets our horrific real estate inflation and monstrous overbuilding spree. Adroit schmoozing of city staff and councilmembers nets tens of millions worth of zoning concessions. And for what in return?

I confess to wondering if the recent surprising revival of the PC option, a scant few weeks before this project goes to council for "suggestions", is a coincidence. Mayor Karen Holman, residentialist, you disappoint.


6 people like this
Posted by Marty Parsons
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm

"The future is coming/here - deal with it or it will bowl you over!"

You had better not mean right here, in Adobe Meadow.

Do not forget that every PC and general zoning change ordinance is referendable. Have you heard of Measure D?


15 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 8, 2015 at 4:04 pm

I hope the city council doesn't get fooled and tricked by another shrewd developer. The city council needs to represent the residents of Palo Alto, and not cater to developers who don't care about the quality of life in Palo Alto. The town has become unbearably overcrowded. The council should just SAY NO!!!


6 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

"They probably cannot afford to build to current zoning because they overpaid for the land."

By it's very nature speculating is a gamble.


Like this comment
Posted by old guy
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 8, 2015 at 4:23 pm

I wish they would leave this space more open - perhaps put in a small drive-in hamburger stand...


13 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 6:29 pm

I already avoid the University Avenue area because it's too congested with terrible parking. I used to frequent restaurants and stores in that area but no more. If this building boom continue, I'll add the California Avenue to the list of places not worth the hassle.


8 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 8, 2015 at 6:46 pm

"I hope the city council doesn't get fooled and tricked by another shrewd developer."

The council can be astoundingly eagerly gullible when it chooses to. They know what they are doing.


"By it's very nature speculating is a gamble."

The PC zone removes the risk.


3 people like this
Posted by housing
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 8:08 pm

You know what makes sense to a senior citizens community? Housing! They should build housing on this site. Desperately, sorely needed housing.


15 people like this
Posted by over the top
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:01 pm

The impacts on the adjacent senior residence are so severe in terms of
loss of privacy, light, visual effect that this proposal is so over the
top and simply unconscionable, before you even consider the broader traffic
and growth impacts.This proposal should have gone to file 13 the day it was
submitted. The proponents are so single-minded in their pursuit of more
$$$ at everybody else's expense it is truly shocking as they pile-on in this regulatory vacuum we have been in.


9 people like this
Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:48 pm

@over the top
And the best example of the developer's greed was his original proposal where he claimed that the $900,000 IMPACT FEES which he was required to pay to the city were a "Public Benefit". So if I get a ticket for speeding, the fine I have to pay is a public benefit?


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 8, 2015 at 10:55 pm

That "adjacent senior residence" presented exactly the same "privacy, light, visual effect" impacts when it was approved just a decade ago. Got away with it being rezoned "Planned Community" and promising "public benefits". I don't see how anyone now living there could have a valid complaint.


8 people like this
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2015 at 7:39 am

Watch the spineless City Council cave.


13 people like this
Posted by Mike-Crescent Park
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2015 at 7:41 am

Mike-Crescent Park is a registered user.

Hopefully some of these comments such as those by Palo Alto Forward are tongue in cheek. Everything that is done in Palo Alto that adds new offices or new housing just increases the traffic congestion. And traffic congestion causes the city to widen roads which somehow is construed as an invitation for more housing and offices. I don't recall that our city goal is to become the largest tech center in the world and to have the largest city revenue in the world. But that's how we operate.

Quality of life and high quality tech business are two things we currently have but its still possible to lose them both if we continue with growth madness.


22 people like this
Posted by PA Grandma
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2015 at 3:02 pm

90,000, yes that is right, 90,000 people commute into this city every day. The commute arterials are almost all at LOS (level of service) levels D, E and F. It's not stated in the article how many people will be put into this building, I'm sure more than the 109 parking spaces indicated. This is the busiest intersection in the city, and the only place in the area that a traffic hub could be installed which would serve the California Avenue area and the Stanford Industrial Park with shuttle/bicycle rental etc. service. This space should not be used for this building.


9 people like this
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 9, 2015 at 3:59 pm

"And the best example of the developer's greed was his original proposal where he claimed that the $900,000 IMPACT FEES which he was required to pay to the city were a "Public Benefit".

It's developer foxiness coupled with eager city council gullibility. Watch them swallow it whole, like they did at 101 Lytton.


14 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2015 at 7:54 pm

All the more reason to permanently abolish the 'Planned Community', and set some real zoning regulations that are actually enforced. The developer give away from our civic leaders must stop.


20 people like this
Posted by Jonny
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2015 at 9:40 pm

This is madness. Oregon Expressway is already choked with cars. Enough already!


9 people like this
Posted by Revolving Door
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2015 at 10:34 am

I always wondered what happened to Steve Emslie (Retired Palo Alto Planning Department Director). Seems it took him some time to find the revolving door.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 10, 2015 at 11:01 am

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2015 at 11:41 am

Just say no. The surrounding buildings were designed based on the existing zoning of the neighboring parcel. Changing the zoning to enrich developers will negatively impact the view and available sunlight of its low income neighbors. What happened to the daylight plane? It will worsen traffic that is already beyond horrible. It will increase the imbalance between jobs and housing. The only benefits are for the nonresident developers. Just say no.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2015 at 1:01 pm

"I always wondered what happened to Steve Emslie (Retired Palo Alto Planning Department Director). Seems it took him some time to find the revolving door."

Yep, a couple minutes.


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2015 at 3:17 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palo Alto does not need any more offices and it does not need any more people. More offices and more housing will increase the traffic, which Palo Alto's small town infrastructure is mightily struggling to cope with already. Now is a perfect time to say that we are at full capacity(way beyond full capacity in the opinion of many). Our destiny has never been to become a sardine-like megalopolis. The developers, who live in Atherton, Woodside, Los Alto Hills and Portola Valley will keep putting pressure on gullible council members to approve developments like this because of the humongous profits involved, and each such demand should be met with a rejection.


2 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2015 at 11:08 am

Leave the zoning as it is. Do not allow any increase in density.
This comment above says it all, The owners knew when they bought the property the uses were restricted to: "private ownership restricts uses to things like parks, schools and medical facilities."
This would be a great place for a park. A bench with a covered area would allow people who are waiting for the bus to rest comfortably. The bus stop is right in front of the property.
The only other option should be as a 24/7 medical facility that serves all, regardless of their insurance carrier and will bill any carrier for the service.
Learn to just say NO to the drug of over-building. There should be no further upgrades or increases in density in any part of Palo Alto.
This is not NYC and never will be. If anyone tries to make it more like NYC, it will just be a big mess


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

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