News


Office project at Olive Garden site races to meet Palo Alto's deadline

Architectural Review Board gives mixed review to proposed development at 2515 El Camino Real

With the clock ticking toward the deadline for new office developments in Palo Alto, two proposals by the same architecture firm are racing to complete their applications and become eligible for approval this year.

The larger of these, a proposal to demolish the Olive Garden restaurant and replace it with a three-story, mixed-use building at 2515-2585 El Camino Real, faces a particularly intense time crunch. The development proposed by Hayes Group faces a hearing in front of a Planning and Transportation Commission on March 10 and then a review by the Architectural Review Board on March 17. It will need to clear both hurdles to make the March 31 deadline that was established by the city's ordinance capping new office development.

The firm is also pursuing a separate project at 411-437 Lytton Ave., a 19,776-square-foot building with 13,360 square feet of commercial space and one residential unit. Because of its office space, this project is also subject to the 50,000-square-foot annual limit on total office development that the council approved last year. The Historic Resources Board is set to review this project on March 10.

The office cap, which applies to proposals downtown, around California Avenue and on El Camino Real, sets up a process in which office projects compete against each other for approval if they total 50,000 square feet or more. Because the Lytton Avenue project has been in the city's approval process since early 2015, it is considered a priority project and would thus get priority over other proposals in the pipeline. (There are two other priority projects, at 2747 Park Blvd. and at 3225 El Camino Real; collectively, the three projects total 37,604 square feet of office space.)

The redevelopment of the Olive Garden site, meanwhile, does not enjoy the priority status and, as a result, still faces a few significant hurdles. Even if it receives the needed votes of approval from the two city commissions in the weeks ahead, it may have to vie with at least one other project: 901 High St., a 20,288-square-foot project that includes 5,000 square feet of office space.

On Thursday morning, the city's Architectural Review Board indicated that its approval of 2515 El Camino -- which includes 13 condominiums, 10,122 square feet of retail and 9,835 square feet of office -- is far from certain. At a public hearing that featured no formal votes, the board gave the project a mixed review, with one board member indicating that he would oppose the design as currently proposed.

The board also lauded certain elements of the project, including a new plaza on Sherman Avenue, a proposed walkway through the site and the development's general conformance with the city's design guidelines for El Camino Real. The project also meets all the specifications of both the "neighborhood commercial" zone that comprises most of the project and the "community commercial" zone that makes up a small portion of one of the site's two parcels.

Board member Peter Baltay characterized the modern design as "good architecture" and praised the project for meeting the area's design guidelines. He also recommended to architect Ken Hayes that he modify the building's corner at El Camino and Grant Avenue to make it more interesting and distinct from the building's facade.

Board member Wynne Furth's biggest issues with the project had to with landscaping and how pedestrians relate to the site. Furth called the landscaping plan "too bright, too hard and insufficiently green" and suggested that the architect will have to make major changes to make the project compatible with the surrounding area. She suggested more landscaping along the sidewalk, near the building's El Camino frontage.

At the same time, Furth lauded the "wonderful plaza" proposed for the area near Sherman Avenue, saying that it "seems like a place where people would like to spend time."

She also joined her colleagues in praising the walkway proposed by Hayes Group Architects, which would connect Sherman and Grant avenues. She also said it's essential that the pedestrian walkway be "available, open and inviting" for the public.

Board member Alexander Lew, meanwhile, said he opposes the project. Lew agreed with Baltay that the architectural style of the proposed 40-foot-tall building is compatible with other developments in the area. Yet he also said that he opposes the development because of the length of its facade on El Camino and a residential component that "is too overwhelming for the block and doesn't really fit the urban pattern on El Camino."

"Your building is longer than any other building in the vicinity on El Camino Real and there's less modulation than in any of the other buildings in the vicinity," Lew told Hayes.

The building design also presented a problem for Chair Robert Gooyer, who recommended that some of the massing be shifted from the middle of the site to the corner so that the walkway would remain entirely open. Under the existing design, it stretches through the building's lobby, which would be locked during certain hours, making the path impassible.

"I'd like to approve it, but it's not there for me yet," Gooyer said.

Planning staff, for its part, concluded that the project is consistent with both the property's zoning and the area's context. A staff report for the project states that the design is pedestrian-friendly, with floor-to-ceiling storefront glazing, a recessed entry on Sherman Avenue and a colonnade along El Camino Real.

Comments

34 people like this
Posted by Another oversized Hayes
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2016 at 10:40 am

The Planning staff found the Hayes oversized structure to be just fine.

What a surprise. Have they ever found Hayes monster buildings too big?
Look at 611 Cowper, it looms over its surroundings like a monster.


39 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2016 at 3:58 pm

..."a three-story, mixed-use building..."

Translated: a three story office building with luxury office suites, fronted to an unwitting public and a reliably gullible city review panel as an office-housing hybrid.


56 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2016 at 6:26 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 5, 2016 at 7:59 am

I have never understood the cap on office development along the transit corridors. These corridors are exactly where such development should be! Now we have VTA planning to improve mass transit along El Camino, while our city wants to reduce the demand for mass transit. Huh?

I see the forces pushing development to be distributed about the city, with new traffic lights added every so often (have we ever removed a traffic light?). The net outcome is a sprawl of urbanization, rather than concentrated areas of development that are well-served.....mass transit and pedestrian friendly in the core areas, and peaceful elsewhere.

Instead we'll have a mesh-system, with a traffic light on every corner, and no one can get anywhere expeditiously.


22 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

In light of the chronic, and on going parking problems near University Ave directly caused by city sponsored over development with no consideration for parking, has city hall learned anything and has there been any consideration on how to mitigate a very likely similar problem near Calif Ave before it becomes a problem? I hope these commercial spaces not being allowed to proceed with out providing additional parking for the auto traffic that will come. It's nice that the buildings are close to some VTA routes, but so many VTA routes are so poorly utilized, it seems unlikely that VTA will contribute much, if any, to a traffic/parking solution.


19 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:39 am

What ever you do, Hurry and Race to get this rushed through..
Because you know we just can't wait to have another unsightly Building forced on us..
Birge Clark would be ashamed..


35 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 5, 2016 at 2:32 pm

We absolutely don't need another office project, anywhere. Palo Alto has become an office park.


5 people like this
Posted by Luvy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2016 at 4:37 pm

[Post removed.]


24 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2016 at 8:00 pm

The ARB has poor taste.


15 people like this
Posted by DaPerk
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2016 at 10:40 pm

I'm more upset at losing one of my favorites: Olive Garden. A great place, easy
to get to, good reasonably priced food, good service, lovely atmosphere. Boo Hoo


4 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2016 at 5:43 pm

When did El Camino get that grassy median?


19 people like this
Posted by Another oversized Hayes
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:08 am

[Portion removed.]

ARB architects get jobs from the developers and architects that come to them. And city staff obeys their boss who is tied in with development interests.
Simply put, Follow the Money.


8 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:26 am

Another concrete box...

Add brown and grey paint so it can be promoted as "good architecture"

An urban walkway going through the buildings lobby ... they are still trying to figure out how to take over every nearby public sidewalk and call it a public benefit they are providing.


27 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2016 at 11:38 am

Palo Alto does not need another 3-4 story office building. In fact, it does NOT need another office building of any dimension!!! What we do need are affordable restaurants, and Olive Garden was a popular one - affordable especially at noon. The builders only care about their own $$$$ -----Not about out city or the people who live here.
Why can't the city limit these projects, think about the livability of Palo Alto?? Why can't the city stop the ugly architecture?


9 people like this
Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

I'm sitting up here in McMinnville, OR chuckling. I lived in Palo Alto from 1970 to 2008. Everything sounds about the same, just more of what was increasingly worst. By that I mean that as long as I lived there the developers got their way and it seems that nothing has changed in that respect. The city had already lost so much of its charm by the time I moved. The final straw, for me, was the way the Town & Country shopping center renewal was handled. "Mac" reminds me so much of Palo Alto at a better time but we're playing catch-up here and there are those who bemoan the "gentrification" of the charming downtown, which has increasingly catered to more the more fancy and expensive tastes of wine/food tourists. However, I do see far less in-your-face craven kowtowing here due, I think, to a more vigorous and even-handed city government. But, not to worry, we have to cope with the awful County Commissioners, and that's no picnic!


20 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm

Palo Alto is primarily a residential community. Why must we allow more offices? Atherton limits businesses -- why can't we be at least a little bit more like Atherton and just say no to more growth, especially more office space? Our traffic, noise and air pollution, and parking problems are almost unbearable. Cut-through traffic is speeding and rolling through stop signs in our neighborhoods, endangering our children on foot and on bicycle, our elderly and all pedestrians who would like to walk our streets in safety. Enough is enough. We can't just limit office space. We ALL must adapt to a new reality and get out of our cars and walk, ride bikes and use public transportation. Changes must start with you and me.


13 people like this
Posted by Tacky
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2016 at 9:06 pm

Hideous! Palo Alto is becoming ugly. [Portion removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2016 at 8:08 am

@Rose

Simply stating that Palo Alto is primarily a residential community doesn't change the fact that, based on the jobs vs resident ratio, its the exact opposite. And due to what seems like serious opposition to recent employee tax proposals, which could actually be effective in slowing job growth in Palo Alto and other cities, statements that this is unwanted seems somewhat disingenuous.


19 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

Turning Palo Alto into a job center was unnatural, because Palo Alto is indeed a residential community with small town roads. Many of the jobs are actually Stanford generated. The fact that politicians who couldn't resist various methods of pressure from developers allowed this to happen doesn't mean it should be allowed to continue. The damage can, and should be be reversed.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2016 at 12:10 pm

@mauricio

Again, if the majority feels that way, why is there so much opposition to (and why aren't you and others out championing) specific policy proposals that would do just that?


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2016 at 4:36 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Wants less parking
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2016 at 4:46 pm

At the Commission meeting on this project when one commissioner wanted a recommendation that the project NOT be permitted less parking, Commissioner Eric Rosenblum said he would like LESS parking, not more.

That's right, he advocates LESS than required parking in an office building.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2016 at 6:52 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Wants less parking
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Not to mention Palantir's big money.
It remains to be seen whether being a Palantir executive and also a founder of Palo Alto Forward will help him. Money yes, but both of those organizations have questionable reputations.


Like this comment
Posted by Kimberly
a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Where the heck is the Olive Garden going...darn it!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2016 at 1:31 pm

"Turning Palo Alto into a job center was unnatural, because Palo Alto is indeed a residential community with small town roads"

Stanford Business Park was always a job center and there have been plenty of offices and businesses in Palo Alto for decades. If we want to make Palo Alto natural again, we would turn it back into fields and pastures. Hey, I am on board for that! Nature is our friend. Don't expect it to become a reality any time soon, though.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 28, 2016 at 1:43 pm

"Stanford Business Park was always a job center and there have been plenty of offices and businesses in Palo Alto for decades."

It is this kind of loose talk, unencumbered by thought or facts, that made the mess we got now.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

"It is this kind of loose talk, unencumbered by thought or facts, that made the mess we got now."

No, it is our failure to anticipate and plan for growth that got us into this mess. That the obstructionists want to stall growth and perpetuate the problems is irrational at best. If they want the Palo Alto of 40 years ago, sorry but is long since gone. For them to sit around and whine about it wont bring it back. Neither will trying to freeze construction and progress. For people who just can't stand the new Palo Alto, nobody is forcing them to stay here.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2016 at 5:22 pm

"Palo Alto does not need another 3-4 story office building. In fact, it does NOT need another office building of any dimension!!!"

Palo Alto never NEEDED any buildings, and functioned perfectly well as pasture and orchards. In fact, it was the threatened destruction of an I orchard that set off the latest paroxysm of anti-growther sentiment.

"Why can't the city stop the ugly architecture?"

Olive Garden was beautiful architecture? It was a good place to pig out, by Beaux Arts it was not.


Like this comment
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 29, 2016 at 8:25 pm

"Olive Garden was beautiful architecture? It was a good place to pig out, by Beaux Arts it was not."

No, Beaux Arts was popular somewhat prior to OG's original incarnation as the Shirt Tail Restaurant. It is some mix of Doo Wop and Googie. But be that as it may, just as nothing can exceed the speed of light, nothing can be uglier than a Hayes pile.

Pig out? Now there's some insight.


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

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