Three years after residents rose up to oppose and, ultimately, defeat a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue, some of the project's fiercest opponents are once again uniting to offer their views about the latest redevelopment plan for the former orchard.
This time, however, their message to the City Council is radically different. The new proposal, they say, is reasonable, responsible and merits approval.
The message is encapsulated in an online petition that as of Thursday morning had 194 signatures, many belonging to some of Palo Alto's fiercest opponents of dense new developments. The list of supporters includes members of the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, land-use watchdogs and leaders of the "Measure D" campaign that overturned a council-approved housing development at 567 Maybell Ave. in November 2013.
These include Bob Moss (known for routinely describing new developments as "garbage,"); Joe Hirsch, a member of the Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning; Art Liberman, former president of the Barron Park Association; and Lydia Kou, a former City Council candidate who is generally aligned with the council's slow-growth "residentialist" wing.
In the petition, the signers state their support for the new proposal from Golden Gate Homes, LLC, which they said "eases traffic and safety concerns for our school-and-family populated neighborhood."
So what is this proposal? According to the latest application, which the developer submitted in December after a series of revisions, the plan now calls for 16 detached single-family homes. As such, it offers a stark contrast from the proposal that was overturned in 2013, which called for 60 units of housing for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes.
While the earlier proposal by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation was criticized for bringing too much density and potential traffic to a popular school commute, the new one is now being characterized by petition signers as the model of neighborhood collaboration. The petition notes that Golden Gate Homes had initially proposed building 30 homes on the property, a plan that did not win local support.
"However, after working collaboratively with neighborhood residents through community outreach and meetings, GGH has ultimately decided to reduce housing density to 16 single-family homes," the petition states. "This is a significant accommodation, and represents close to an 80 percent density reduction from 72 housing units if Measure D had passed to a REASONABLE and RESPONSIBLE 16 homes for a school-dense area filled with families."
The petition's sentiment was echoed by comments from many of the people who signed it. Kou praised the project for its reduced density and wrote that the proposal will keep traffic onto Maybell Avenue at a minimum.
Warren Kirsch, who opposed the prior development, called the new proposal "a good plan that satisfies all parties involved" and Moss said the new plan is "significantly better in terms of traffic and environmental impacts than past proposals."
"It also will result in lower costs for city and school district services than previous plans," Moss wrote.
According to Ted O'Hanlon, consultant for Golden Gate Homes, the decision to reduce the number of units was driven both by what's feasible under the zoning code and what's acceptable to the neighborhood. After considering two previous concepts, O'Hanlon said in an email, "we presented the 16 units plan to neighbors and were pleased by the support it received."
Prior concepts, he noted, were proposed under a zoning designation called "Village Residential," which allows more units and smaller lots. But the development team, he said, encountered "too many gray areas within the municipal code to execute a timely and successful application."
"From there, rather than increase units count with town homes, we examined and ultimately executed an increase in lot sizes to a more uniform detached single family format predominant in the neighborhood and throughout Palo Alto," O'Hanlon wrote. "Fortunately, this has also found an equilibrium and general acceptance with the community."
Though the proposal has already scored a sizable victory by winning over the neighborhood, another hurdle stands in its way. To make the plan possible, the developer will have to obtain two zoning exemptions to accommodate lots with sizes and dimensions that don't conform to the code. Two of the 16 lots would not meet the minimum size of 6,000 square feet (one would be 5,000 square feet, while another would be 5,682 square feet). In addition, those lots that do meet the 6,000-square-foot requirement in some cases don't conform to a zoning rule that calls for their dimensions to be at least 100 feet by 60 feet.
Yurong Han, manager for Golden Gate Homes, wrote in a letter to the city that even if the lots do not meet the requirement for dimensions, "the community will be benefited as this is a project the community supports with the look and feel of a single-family development." She noted that all other aspects of the zoning code will be adhered to, "most importantly appropriate setbacks."
Han also noted in the letter that sub-6,000-square-foot lots on residential parcels "exist throughout Palo Alto, and contextually in the corridor between Arastradero and Maybell Avenue where the site is located."
The project, she wrote, "has been in the process for a long time and much of that time has been spent working with various stakeholders to create a winning project."
"As it now appears this project has broad support, GGH hopes that the City can favorably expedite review of this project," Han wrote.