News

Historic board deals blow to project at former Shady Lane site

Citing concerns about mass and scale, Palo Alto panel calls for more historic analysis for 429 University Ave.

A proposal to construct a four-story building on the prominent downtown corner of University Avenue and Kipling Street suffered another setback Thursday morning when Palo Alto's Historic Resources Board concluded that the project's impacts on existing historical structures has to be re-evaluated.

By a 5-0 vote, with Chair Roger Kohler absent and board member Martin Bernstein recusing himself, the board agreed that the proposed development at 429 University Ave. requires a fresh historic analysis. In doing so, the board rejected the analysis recently performed by the consulting firm Carey & Co Inc., which considered the surrounding properties and concluded that the new development would not have any impact on their historic integrity.

The vote could further complicate what has already been a long and tortuous journey through Palo Alto's planning process for the proposed project at the former site of boutique shop Shady Lane. The project went through five hearings before the Architectural Review Board last year and early this year before securing the board's approval. The city's planning director followed by issuing a letter of approval on Feb. 25.

But things went south after a neighbor, Michael Harbour, filed an appeal earlier this year, arguing that the modernist, 50-foot-tall building would be incompatible with Kipling, a narrow street dominated by Victorian homes. The appeal went to the City Council which voted 5-4 in May to request a series of design changes and a new assessment of the project's impacts on historical properties.

The list of questions that the council wanted to revisit included: What is the "area of potential effect" for historical impact under state law? How will the project affect the existing historic structures on Kipling and on University? And would the mass, scale and compatibility of the proposed project affect the surrounding historic properties?

On the lattermost question, the answer from the Historic Resources Board was a resounding "yes!" Members commented on the size and scale of the proposed development and concluded that the new report from the consulting firm Carey & Co used a study area that is too restrictive. The report evaluated eight properties and confirmed that the proposed development would not affect the historic significance of the other sites.

"Although a number of individual historical resources are located on the (University) avenue, they do not form a historic district," the report concluded. "Similar to Kipling Street, the proposed project will not substantially alter the physical environment of the individual historic resources on University such that their integrity would be compromised to the degree that they would lose their historic significance."

The board took issues with this finding with board members David Bower and Beth Bunnenberg both noting that many of the buildings in the area were designed by Palo Alto's beloved architect Birge Clark and lamented the "cumulative impact" of these structures being gradually replaced by larger and more modern buildings.

Both of them argued that a historical evaluation should consider many other buildings in the area as well, including the ones further east on University, between Waverley and Cowper streets, and further north on Kipling, until Lytton Avenue.

Bunnenberg and Bower both observed that while the building is officially listed as 50-feet tall, it also includes HVAC equipment that would extend beyond this height. Each argued that the project is too massive.

"As we allow buildings to exceed the 50-foot height limit and they become extremely massive, we are setting the pattern and the cumulative effects will be felt all down the street that it's OK ... That you can take out these buildings and build something that is massive, that exceeds the height limit and it will go through alright," Bunnenberg said. "I think it is in its present form very large."

Bower concurred and said his most serious concern is that "its mass and scale is not compatible and sympathetic to the surrounding buildings." Board member Margaret Wimmer also said she wishes the design of the building were "more sympathetic" with the surrounding area.

"I do understand that the applicants always try to maximize the heights ... I just wish there were some historic references that could be applied to the building. There is a real modern theme going on right now and everyone wants a lot of glass and clean lines," Wimmer said.

Elizabeth Wong, project applicant, immediately blasted the board's vote. She recounted the project's long history and listed the changes that have already been made to the project to make it more compatible with neighboring properties, including deeper setbacks for the two upper floors in an attempt to break up the massing. She called the board's recommendation for more analysis "punitive" an "bordering on illegal."

"This is insane," Wong said. "The project should never have come here."

While she said it's appropriate for the city to re-evaluate its rules for new developments, she argued that it's "totally unfair for the project to be submitted to these strict historical guidelines that you are putting forth at this time."

The project is set to undergo another review by the Architectural Review Board before it returns to the council for a decision.

Comments

50 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Elizabeth Wong is quite unfair herself. I'm glad there is a setback in moving forward with this project. A modernist building will definitely have an impact on Kiplings historic appearance.


42 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Thank you to the Historic Resources Board. I don't live anywhere near there but I appreciate our downtown and am sick of [portion removed] developers that are ruining it not only with massive and incompatible buildings but also destroying our town by bringing more people and cars into what is already gridlock.

[Portion removed.]

All the developers know that they will wear down the City if they just keep coming back, so they start with ridiculous projects, make a few minor changes, and then get something approved that is still ridiculous. Now that some of those projects are being stopped, the developers scream about how many changes they've already made, but don't mention how much they are still out of compliance!


33 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

Thanks to Michael Harbour for stepping up.


18 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Sep 10, 2015 at 3:37 pm

429 University is literally across the street from a 50-foot building and down the street from the President Hotel - the eight-story tall building that one might say started the whole "massive, underparked" building theme in 1929.

The idea that a four-story building on Palo Alto's main commercial street is "incompatible with its surroundings" because of its height is ludicrous. Is this just a smokescreen for the residentialist crusade to get rid of new jobs and new housing in Palo Alto?

If the commissioners said they wanted it to look more like the President Hotel in order to be historically compatible, I'd at least understand what they were saying.


19 people like this
Posted by glad to hear it
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2015 at 4:25 pm

@Mystified, the reason it is different is that Kipling is much narrower than most streets hence the no turning Left from University. [Portion removed.] The current apple store was an old birge clark but somehow that got past the historical board


29 people like this
Posted by Finally!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Finally an informed, sensitive response in our City government. The
precise location of this project at Kipling is a debacle for that narrow
street. But the concept of area of broader impact also applies extending
all the way down University Ave.This is not just about height. The Accel
Partners building at 428 University in texture, style, color blends into
the district. Compare it to The Cheesecake Factory which should have been
soundly rejected as a design debacle for University Avenue twelve years
ago. Thank you Historic Resources Board. Finally!!


Like this comment
Posted by Cresent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Not quite on the Apple Store. It was seismically unsafe.

Web Link


19 people like this
Posted by Old timer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2015 at 8:00 am

"Jobs and housing" what a worn out excuse from the out of area developers that are doing nothing but draining $$ out and adding traffic. As a resident I don't need more startup office space or chain stores in down town. We are getting tip the point where we will soon ruin why it is such a desirable area to live.


20 people like this
Posted by ellie
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:36 am

Thank you members of the HRB! You served Palo Alto well in your unanimous decision. Anyone can see that this mega building will effect everything around it - you don't park a jumbo Chevy Suburban in a compact car space without it impacting parking the adjacent row, throwing all cars out of space bounds. This jumbo building will do the same - and when the next developer wants the same, they will cite this building, if allowed, as justifying theirs. No matter how much the owner protests, she must understand that this is not just about her - this is a town, a community with many people using University Ave, not just her for her cash cow. Try walking on Kipling and imagine a sheer wall between 20 and 60 feel sraight up - no impact? Hardly!


17 people like this
Posted by Unfair
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:45 am

No matter what you think of this project, it has been horribly unfair to the owner. She has been through so much scrutiny and now they bring up this "issue" in the last hour. The fact is that, per the CPA zoning, the height, size and so called massiveness is allowed (and for the record, miscellaneous mechanical/HVAC equipment has always been allowed to extend beyond the 50' height limit.) It's that simple - the city code says this building is allowed but now it's not because it will make Kipling look different.

Furthermore, Have you been down Santa Cruz Ave. lately? For related and unrelated reasons, development has not happened there. It's mostly older, ugly, dilapidated buildings, most which are occupied by banks and other large, boring storefronts. It's a ghost town.


7 people like this
Posted by Wong building
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Unfair
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:24 am

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by Excellent decision!
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:38 am

Many thanks to everyone on the HRB! Finally, a decision to protect the look and feel of Palo Alto! It is about time! And we are grateful.


24 people like this
Posted by Carex
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm

These comments that it's "unfair" to the developer are just silly. This is the famous Palo Alto Process. You don't win exemption by getting emotional and personal about it.

Somebody had an idea they could force through an inappropriate building by being overly forceful. Dazzled by the expectation of riches, tantrums are being thrown over the existence of reality.

There has been a similarly unprofessional developer in MP who specialized in ad hominem attacks on opponents. Our area has traditionally been a very civil community, where people have tried to work _with_, rather than _against_, the people and government of our towns.

Hopefully, greed-driven developers who look at our polite ways and think they can profit by being brash and bullying, pushing every boundary to the limit in order to "take" profit (in the process degrading other properties' values), will start to notice that it isn't a successful strategy. The "Disruption" model currently justifying a number of brash unorthodox pushy greedy new businesses (Uber, etc.) extracts value by trying to destroy cultural practices that have developed over long periods. The perspective of "where can I take advantage of the system" is morally a theft. This PA developer is trying to maximize the benefit of disregarding the rules and limits to build a hulking building, contravening local society's values for heritage, history, and continuity. Tough luck that we locals have chosen to honor how our city developed and in retaining those values, we are standing up against an unfair "take" that attempts to exchange town ambience for private property.

If this developer could put aside their ego and absorb the values of the town, they might be able to build a successful and lucrative building that adds, rather than extracts, benefit to the town.


9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm

@unfair: You and I both know (along with anyone who has lived here more than 6 weeks) that building architecture has nothing to do with the quiet nightlife on MP's Santa Cruz Av. Nice try though.


15 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm

"The fact is that, per the CPA zoning, the height, size and so called massiveness is allowed..."

And the same authority requires HRB review, so here we go.

This creates an inreresting conflict. This building is too ugly for the HRB to approval, but is it ugly enough to get the ARB blessing? Stay tuned...

BTWb, I would not call it Modern; my preferred descriptors are desultory and derivative. It has no actual style and not a hint of originality.


18 people like this
Posted by #BringChange
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

I'm happy we have an HRB that is agreeing with the Palo Alto residents directly affected by this monstrosity. It's very sad that some of our city council members have special interests other than listening to Palo Alto residents. While the HRB voted down this ugly project with a resounding 5-0 vote, the same project hardly passed the City Council review 5-4. The "unfantastic-4" Council members Greg Scharff, Cory Wolbach, Liz Kniss, and Marc Berman voted in favor of this massive project. The unfantastic-4 keep approving many other ugly/massive/out-of-place projects around the city even against the wishes of Palo Alto residents (and clearly opposite to the opinion of any review board that is not in cahoots with architects/developers). The Palo Alto ARB has proven to be a bunch of architects double dipping, approving anything their colleagues put on the table. When are the residents directly affected by a new project going to be consulted or actually represented?


7 people like this
Posted by #BringChange
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:55 pm

To Curmudgeon - The ARB will approve ANYTHING. Randy Popp, the former ARB chair, recently resigned because he was sitting on both sides of the table: approving and applying. This happens ALL the time! At least he had the sensitivity to resign.
The Palo Alto ARB needs a major reform and needs to include people that represent other interests, such aesthetic impact, resident's opinion (special those directly impacted); people that are neutral.


10 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 11, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Good points by many contributors.
Has anyone looked at the historic quality of the existing building? I've heard no mention of that.
Obviously the building/land owner wants to take advantage of the low interest rates to improve her building and make more money by increasing its size. It seems that traffic and parking implications are key factors in determining the size of a 'new' or 'renovated' building on the site. The Historic significance of the said building and the adjoining, adjacent and parallel buildings also NEED to be taken into account. This should have been done from the beginning.

The delay in the project is the responsibility of the land owner. She has been in Palo Alto for decades and knows that 'our' community is involved and cares deeply about its heritage and lifestyle, especially on University Avenue. The Architect is also responsible, especially in a professional practice which should address all the environmental issues from aesthetics, building materials, and I'm pact upon the city and me ighborhood, in addition to our natural resources. Ie - land, water, electricity and gas

So, why can't the structure be renovated - keep the facade, and add significant changes to the backside? It's done all over the world! The land owner has plans to charge exorbitant rates to lease holders that could clearly cover her building costs and she could be celebrated as a positive contributor to our community for decades to come! Sounds like a no brainer to me.

Thank Historical Review Board for upholding architectural values in Palo Alto in 2015.


Like this comment
Posted by unfair
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 11, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Carex - there are zero exceptions this project is requesting. This size building is allowed by the zoning/code.

CP Dad - true, architecture has nothing to do with MP's sleepiness. My point was that, for whatever reasons, PA has been more attractive to developers and and has therefore been more built up. The result is a non-1950s ugly, boring main drag.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2015 at 4:01 pm

"The land owner has plans to charge exorbitant rates to lease holders that could clearly cover her building costs and she could be celebrated as a positive contributor to our community for decades to come! Sounds like a no brainer to me."

The landowner gets to keep more of the exhorbitant rents if her building is designed and constructed as cheaply as possible. Being a positive contributor to our community brings no nenumeration, so no chance of that.

The ARB favors cheap ugly architecture because it has been captured by the developers who hire its members. In stark contrast, the HRB is comprised of aesthetically aware citizens with no money to gain and who thus evaluate objectively. It's that simple.


6 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Too bad the brakes couldn't have been put on BEFORE we lost Shady Lane. I've been to their new location, and the merchandise offered seemed sparse compared to what they used to have on University. Plus, it's a long way to go.


6 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Gradually all the interesting places to shop in Palo Alto have disappeared. We are now left with overpriced shops. Some are unique, others are chains. It's unfortunate Shady Lane was forced out by the owner's desire to maximize return. I'm not likely to go to their new location to shop. We have lost an independent shop that featured local artists.
The proposed building is too big and too massive. Any new building I that area needs some green space at street level. The height should be limited to 3 floors.
In my personal experience developers always want more. They keep coming back to try to wear down the residents. It is up to the local residents to keep limits in place. Don't look for what is the maximum allowed; look instead for what you want and keep pushing for it.
Palo Alto has a vibrant evening culture because there are suitable businesses here to provide the desired services.


Posted by Also owns Apple store
a resident of Downtown North

on Sep 12, 2015 at 10:52 am


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2 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm

@unfair wrote:

"Carex - there are zero exceptions this project is requesting. This size building is allowed by the zoning/code."

That is irrelevant to the anti-progress crowd. They want to turn back the clock 60 years and recreate a Palo Alto that never existed. Being fair or unfair simply isn't part of the equation. It is not about right or wrong, but about backroom deals and one hand washing the other.

"CP Dad - true, architecture has nothing to do with MP's sleepiness. My point was that, for whatever reasons, PA has been more attractive to developers and and has therefore been more built up. The result is a non-1950s ugly, boring main drag."

There are many people on Town Square who think Palo Alto should be the way it was in the 1950s. They fail to realize that the no-growth train left town a long time ago.


Like this comment
Posted by Kudzu Abatment Officer
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2015 at 3:03 pm

"There are many people on Town Square who think Palo Alto should be the way it was in the 1950s. They fail to realize that the no-growth train left town a long time ago."

No we don't; we're the majority in the town. Remember Measure D?


16 people like this
Posted by Lauren Tanimoto
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm

As one of the artisans who has moved with Shady Lane from University Avenue to the current Menlo Park location, it has been sad to see the culture and structure of Palo Alto become more commercialized over the years. As a business, it was extremely difficult for Shady Lane to make the decision to move away from University Avenue. However, Shady Lane was basically forced into a four-month at a time lease with the previous location, which was not sustainable.

Shady Lane is making the most of new opportunities. The selection is better than ever and new products and artisans are constantly being brought in. They have lots of loyal customers from the former location coming to the store as well as attracting new ones, and the store is doing well.


14 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 12, 2015 at 4:45 pm

The people in PA who oppose this building project are not against development and improvement. We are against over development, poor planning, unnecessary and constricting impacts upon the building's immediate neighbors and an aesthetic style that does not fit the location.

Please take a few minutes and read this article written in 1994, about an interview with Birge Clark. The historic style buildings in Palo Alto do date back before 1950's. Beauty is in the eye of the beholders and appreciating historic design, craftsmanship and structure is very much a part of being human. Don't confuse no-growth with being sensitive to the majority!

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Not surprising that the irony of the situation is lost on so many. A beloved store gets priced out due to people's absolute refusal to allow any new construction...


10 people like this
Posted by Shopper
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 16, 2015 at 5:11 pm

I shopped at Shady Lane in Palo Alto for many years and always found something wonderful to take home. I was sad when I heard the store would be moving to Sharon Heights in Menlo Park, but it's a quick trip to Sharon Heights. I also save a ton of time not having to search for a parking space.

The old building in Palo Alto was charming, but the new store is a shining gem. And it seems to have even more offerings than before. And the customer care is as great as ever.


6 people like this
Posted by Melissa
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 23, 2015 at 10:54 am

I have been a long-time fan of Shady Lane, but there were many times I gave up trying to find a parking space at their old location on University. Their new space in Sharon Heights is lovely, the selection is great, AND I never have trouble parking!

I'm amazed that the council approved any version of the larger building given that the increased density will only make the bad parking situation worse.


3 people like this
Posted by Sandi
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm

While I don't live in Palo Alto I have been an artisan at Shady Lane for the entire time it was on University avenue, over 40 years. The neighborhood had a lovely, shady ambiance until the last decade of our tenancy there and it was a pleasure to walk along the street. I don't feel that big modern glass and steel boxes add to the desire of folks to come to shop. The increasing lack of parking is very difficult.

Shady Lane has found a lovely new home, full of light. Our customers are telling us that they love being able to park easily in the Sharon Heights Shopping Center. While I am sorry that our gallery had to move, the move itself has been a good one and we hope to be seeing many more of our former customers at Sharon Heights only 3.9 miles from our old location.


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