After more than a year of commission reviews and design revisions, Jay Paul Company has withdrawn the application for one of its two proposed research-and-development projects in the bustling area near the California Avenue Caltrain station.
The San Francisco-based developer informed the city of its decision to withdraw the application for 3045 Park Blvd. in a letter last month. The project was one of four "pipeline" projects that the City Council agreed to give preference to in evaluating which developments should be allowed to proceed under the city's new cap on office space.
The office cap -- which applies to downtown, the area around California Avenue and El Camino Real -- limits construction of new office and research-and-development projects to 50,000 square feet a year total in those three areas. Because Jay Paul has been going through the approval process for both 3045 Park and 2747 Park since October 2014, the council agreed last year that these two projects should be placed at the head of the line.
The 29,120-square-foot development proposed for 3047 Park would have taken up more than a half of the cap total. Now that the application is withdrawn, Jay Paul is focusing on getting approval for 2747 Park, a 47-foot-tall, three-story building that would also be used for research and development and that would replace an existing single-story building between Page Mill Road and Sheridan Avenue.
Ray Paul, executive vice president of Jay Paul Company, wrote in a letter to the city that it is "crucially important to us that this action (the withdrawal of the application for 3045 Park Blvd.) not derail our application to develop 2747 Park Blvd. in 2016.
"Consequently our withdrawal of 3045 Park Boulevard is conditioned on the City's ability to keeping this project on track for approval in 2016," Paul wrote.
The withdrawal of 3045 Park has already had one significant effect on the city's approval process for 2747 Park. First of all, it reduces the number of projects competing for approval under the new cap. In addition, it allows Jay Paul to avoid performing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) -- a detailed analysis of the two projects' impacts on things like traffic, noise and the natural environment. Whereas before, Jay Paul planned to order the analysis for the two developments, now staff is limiting its environmental review to what's known as a "mitigated negative declaration" -- a less stringent analysis. The document was released last week and the public comment period on the document will remain open until Feb. 29.
According to the traffic analysis for the 2747 Park, the project would result in about 541 new vehicle trips daily, including 75 in the peak morning hours and 110 in the peak evening hours. Though the "level of service" at the intersections around the project would remain unchanged, the new development would add 1.3 seconds to the time it takes to cross the chronically congested intersection of Page Mill and El Camino Real during the morning commute. The intersection currently functions at service level "E" in the morning and at level "D" in the evening ("F" is the lowest possible score). When the analysis takes into consideration other area developments that have been approved but not yet constructed, the level of service drops to "F" in the morning and to "E" in the evening.
To address the congestion, Jay Paul would be required to help the city pay for a new traffic signal at the intersection of Park and Page Mill Road. The environmental analysis also recommends that Jay Paul install signs at the corner of Sheridan and Page Mill directing pedestrians to use Park and California Avenue to access the Caltrain station. Another recommendation is that Jay Paul install "yield to bicycles" signs along Park.
Meanwhile, Jay Paul's decision to pull back its plans for 3045 Park represents yet anther change for the centrally located site. In 2013, Jay Paul proposed using this site to help construct Palo Alto's new public-safety building, which would be attached to a large public garage. In exchange, the company requested approval of a massive office development next to the AOL headquarters at 395 Page Mill. The project, which would have brought 311,000 square feet of commercial development to the already congested area, was summarily panned by the council and ultimately withdrawn by Jay Paul.
With the withdrawal of 3045 Park, the development projects subject to the ordinance this year "may total just slightly more than 50,000 square feet," according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. The new ordinance evaluates the projects that are going through the city's approval process as of March 31 and creates a competition between developments based on traffic impacts, design quality, environmental impacts and value to the community.
The proposed scorecard, which the council is set to review on Feb. 8, also gives a slight preference to mixed-use projects that include housing, retail and cultural amenities such as art galleries and studios. The council will also review on Feb. 8 the proposed administrative guidelines for the new office cap, which is set to remain in place for either two years or until the adoption of the city's updated Comprehensive Plan.
Even without the office cap, Jay Paul's proposal for 2747 Park still has several hurdles to clear before it wins the city's approval. Last month, the city's Architectural Review Board discussed and generally lauded the proposed design for the new building. At the same time, board member Peter Baltay expressed concerns that the new development is effectively an office building going up in a zone that was intended for light-industrial use. He said he would not be able to support a finding showing that the project complies with the city's zoning policies -- a requirement of the board's approval (the board did not take any votes on the project at that meeting).
"This is a speculative office building, and I think it's a fairly handsome one as it's coming along," Baltay said. "I don't necessarily disagree with that use, but I don't think it's for us to ignore (the requirement for zoning compliance)."