Palo Alto council to rule on new Mercedes dealership near Baylands

Proposal calls for demolishing Ming's Restaurant, replacing it with three-story facility

Once a popular destination for diners seeking egg rolls, dim sum and Chinese chicken salad, the Embarcadero Road building that once housed Ming's Restaurant would be demolished and replaced with a glassy, three-story Mercedes Benz dealership under a plan that the City Council will consider Monday night.

The proposal from Fletcher Jones to build the auto dealership, at 1700 Embarcadero Road, has been picking up momentum in recent weeks, with both the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and its Architectural Review Board (ARB) giving it the green light. If it wins the council's approval on Monday night, the Mercedes facility would join a coterie of automobile dealerships already located near the Baylands, including Anderson Honda and Audi Palo Alto.

Unlike those buildings, which have sprawling, horizontal alignments, the Mercedes dealership would be 50 feet in height, roughly the same as a hotel that was once proposed and approved by the council for this site (the hotel plan was scuttled in 2013, after the entitlement expired).

The dealership would include a detached car wash and, on the ground level, a showroom and an area to service and repair vehicles. The second story would be predominantly offices, while a third would have a single sales office and a second vehicle-repair area, according to the project plans. Additional parking and vehicle storage would be available on the building's roof.

The new dealership initially proved to be a tough sell with the ARB, which at first found the building to be too massive and conspicuous for the area around the Baylands and recommended a series of revisions, including softer lights, more landscaping, subtler colors and a reduction in height. Over a course of four reviews stretching longer than a year, the project architects have agreed to revise the design; use the "sandy hook gray" color prescribed by the Baylands Master Plan; and scrap a prior plan to run an elevator to the roof -- a feature that would have extended beyond the 50-foot height of the building.

Now, the elevator will stop at the third floor and the Mercedes dealership will rely on a ramp to reach the top level, architect Deeg Snyder told the architectural panel during its last discussion, on May 19. As a result, the height exception that the applicant had previously sought will no longer be needed.

"We now have a project that is fully below the line of the required height," Snyder said.

Ultimately, the board was united in approving the project. While some members questioned whether it's appropriate to have a building of this size and scale so close to the Baylands, they also acknowledged that issues of land use are beyond their purview.

"Whether a project of this kind is suitable for this site is a decision for the City Council and its zoning decisions," board member Wynne Furth said.

Chair Robert Gooyer concurred and cited that the council's approval in 2009 of the new hotel, a project that included a zone change from "planned community" to its current designation of "service commercial." Given the council's support for the equally tall hotel, Gooyer said he has a "hard time saying I can't support a three-story car dealership, especially (since) you've softened it up greatly since where you started."

Though the applicant is no longer requesting a height exception, the project would still require some code exceptions before it becomes a reality.

Fletcher Jones is looking for the city to waive its "10-foot build-to line" requirement so that the dealership could stand further away from the major roads -- a change that the architectural panel heartily endorsed. The current plan calls for a 46-foot-8-inch setback along Embarcadero Road and an 80-foot setback along Bayshore Road.

More significantly, the dealership would require a zone change: an addition of an "automobile dealership" zoning overlay to allow for greater density. The site's existing service commercial designation allows facilities that provide "citywide and regional services" and rely on customers who drive to the destinations, according to a report from planning staff. The zoning designation allows auto dealerships and service shops, as well as motels, lumberyards and restaurants.

After discussing the zone change in late April, the Planning and Transportation Commission voted 5-0, with Chair Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka absent, to support it. Commissioner Eric Rosenblum said he can't find anything objectionable or problematic with the proposal.

"I think this is a compatible business for this area," Rosenblum said.


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14 people like this
Posted by Just us chumps
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2016 at 9:15 am

Wait a minute. They got a zone change from PC zonng to put in a hotel and now they aren't? PC zoning could have been housing. We need housing, as we are often bludgeoned with on this side of town, not yet another high priced car dealer. Wow. Since they decided not to do the hotel, the zoning should revert. Geez, could the pandering to the North while looking down their noses at the South be any worse with our City Council?

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2016 at 9:41 am

My suspicion is that the dealership was always part of the plan. We seem to be getting many hotels built around town, but the dealerships always wanted easy access to the highway.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2016 at 2:15 pm

50' seems too tall. Sounds like they are trying to build something other than what was permitted. However, I do agree the building should be allowed to be further back from the major roads if they want it to be. In general, the problem with the Architectual Review Board and Planning & Transportation Commission is they are out of touch with and don't represent the concerns and interests of most residents resulting in substandard ugly new proposed buildings regularly coming in front of the council.

17 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Enough is enough ...

Quit taking the last of our easily and quickly accessible open space and chewing it.
We have enough car dealerships, and how about letting Palo Altans actually
decide if we want an "Auto Row" in the middle of the Baylands?

And why with all of this development that we supposedly need is there never enough
money that comes with it to avoid all the increases in taxes, fees and expenses
that are dumped on us every f'n year by the very people who are supposed to be
managing these things for the betterment of the City?

I wonder how many people really see Palo Alto as getting better because of all
of this haphazard development that no one seems to be able to have a say in?

18 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 4, 2016 at 4:47 pm

"We need housing, ..."

May be, but housing costs the city money while car sales bring in revenue.

11 people like this
Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm

How will sea level rise impact this site?

This map clearly shows the Mings site at risk: Web Link

19 people like this
Posted by Baylander
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2016 at 9:57 pm

It appears that the plan is well reviewed and commented. I don't see any problem with a low volume dealership in that area. I bike in that area and don't find any of the existing buildings including Audi dealership offensive. In fact, the ugliest structure in that segment of the road is the high net of the practice golf course.

The traffic impact cannot be more than Ming's previous lunch and dinner traffic. Most of the dealership traffic is in the weekends which a good thing. I would suggest for the city council to approve it.

13 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2016 at 10:16 pm

It would be insane not to make this project happen. Minimal impact (probably net positive because more traffic would arrive via 101), plus big tax revenue.

20 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2016 at 9:57 am

For those of you who have better ideas for what to do with this property, why don't you buy it, then you can decide.

22 people like this
Posted by Good suggestion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2016 at 7:19 pm

Thanks for the suggestion Paul, I tried to buy it but it is not for sale.

Like you, I think only big property owners should be allowed to express opinions. This democracy thing has gotten out of hand. Next thing you know, they'll want to vote.

3 people like this
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm

No impact? Incorrect.
Increased traffic, and in a location which is particularly sensitive to it: the Embarcadero and Bayshore intersection, where traffic is backed up constantly both when attempting to get from 101N to Embarcadero, or when attempting to get from Bayshore onto Embarcadero.

11 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2016 at 10:15 pm

@Professorville Resident - Increased traffic compared to the hotel that was approved for the location? A hotel that would send much of its traffic up Embarcadero into into the rest of Palo Alto? Not only will a car dealer bring more tax revenue, it will being less traffic, and teh traffic it does bring will be less likely to drive into Palo Alto west of 101. So incorrect back on you.

20 people like this
Posted by allen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2016 at 10:54 am

This is wonderful news. Car dealerships generate lots of sales tax revenue. That will help all of us and right next to 101 will minimize the traffic problem for anyone coming from other cities. Good job.

3 people like this
Posted by Bird friendly
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2016 at 10:59 am

Just a curiosity question. I see everyone talking about the building but no one is mentioning anything about having a carwash right next to a bird sanctuary. I'd like to know how they plan to keep automotive chemicals contained?

4 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 6, 2016 at 11:21 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

Can you cite one example of car wash "chemicals" harming birds?

3 people like this
Posted by Bikes not Cars
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 6, 2016 at 11:25 am

Wow. Just as we are voting on a measure to save the Bay a high end car dealership in Palo Alto!!! I thought this City was trying to fight increased automobile traffic and parking???? What is this? More talk less walk!

I was out to the Bay Lands with my kids - The waste water treatment plant looks like it's going to overflow fall into the bay. As well there is so much noise and air pollution out there with the PA Airport. And now more cars. Such a shame.

8 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 6, 2016 at 11:35 am

It is hard to see how a lot next to 2 car dealerships and the highway would not be an appropriate use. People who think Mercedes is a low volume dealership are mistaken.
It should do much better than the Audi dealership and generate much more sales tax than the Honda dealer. Those who doubt the financial benefits of this proposal should put their numbers forward for scrutiny.

3 people like this
Posted by Baylands birder
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 6, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Here is a reference to an article (with it's own references) explaining how effluent (runoff) from car washes harms natural areas and wildlife

Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Katana650
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2016 at 1:16 pm

As a business owner at the PA airport, I think this is a great idea!
Mings generated a ton of traffic particularly during midday and the dinner hour. What is most interesting to me, is the commentary from those that do not frequent this area, have zero idea of what the traffic impact used to be nor will they visit our airport, golf course, the baylands, or the proposed Mercedes dealership at any time in the future.

This somewhat remote location would be a terrible place for housing, low income or otherwise due to the lack of public transportation and the distance from downtown and other local services . Palo Alto NEEDS the income this dealership will generate. It is my sincere hope that this plan comes to fruition quickly.

6 people like this
Posted by Good suggestion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2016 at 1:40 pm

>Commissioner Eric Rosenblum said he can't find anything objectionable or problematic with the proposal.

Has Mr. Rosenblum ever found a problem with a big development?
This is intended as a serious question. My impression is that he wants development of all kinds.

4 people like this
Posted by Want an example?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Look at the business the Belmont MBZ dealership pulls in. I used to have to drive by it daily. There were cars flooding in and out each morning and evening to get the frequent service those cars need. Good for business taxes for sure.

Like this comment
Posted by car wash okay
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2016 at 6:51 pm

To Baylands birder: the car wash will contain and recycle all water. This is required by existing Palo Alto regulations. When the water becomes too dirty to recycle, it will be discharged into the sanitary sewer. There will be no runoff.

Like this comment
Posted by Mings Fan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2016 at 9:19 pm

As a Mings fan, I was hoping we'd see the restaurant reappear, either in hotel form, or any other form. Any idea of what happened or if they are planning on re-opening elsewhere?

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 7, 2016 at 1:17 am

Dealership went down with a thud tonight. Appropriate use but just way too big.

2 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2016 at 2:33 am

> Dealership went down with a thud tonight.

Glad to hear that. I think of that huge Mercedes dealership that is down by San Carlos??? Can't remember, but it is like a huge wall by the freeway.

Also as was mentioned by others ... the traffic from 3-6pm in that area is horrible. It is only horrible because the police never seem to go there and ticket people who drive out and park in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red for them and green for the cross-traffic.

Whatever happens they need to figure out a way to fix that traffic jam. Sometimes I go out to the baylands around 5 and it can take almost 20 minutes just to get across the freeway.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 7, 2016 at 10:35 am

@Plane, out of curiosity I've parked my bike on that corner and watched the afternoon traffic pattern. Very little delay is due to intersection stuffing. It's the sheer volume coming off northbound 101 trying to cross to the left turn lane of Embarcadero to the frontage road into East Palo Alto. That backup conflicts with Oregon traffic going onto northbound 101, especially when a bus is thrown into the mix. Difficult to fix without reconfiguring the entire interchange to something like the Shoreline/Middlefield complex a bit further south. Things might improve when the 101 creek crossing reconstruction is completed, as the bottleneck merging onto the freeway there should be relaxed.

Like this comment
Posted by Traffic
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm

The traffic issue on to 101 is temporary because a lane was lost due to creek construction. That is what has wreaked havock. Merge will be improved once creak work is done. Unfortunately it is taking forever.

Like this comment
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2016 at 3:03 am

Musical, yes, it is true that crossing 3 lanes of traffic coming from 101 and trying to get to East Bayshore is a big problem. It would be much easier to deal with if people would not stop in the middle of the intersection and block everyone else though.

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 22, 2017 at 3:34 pm

A friend said Ming's might reopen. Has anyone else heard this? Thanks.

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

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