News

Resident appeal seeks to nix downtown Palo Alto development

Opponents of approved project at 411-437 Lytton Ave. say building is too massive for area

A proposal to construct a three-story building next to a historic home on Lytton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto is facing resistance, with more than a dozen residents signing an appeal petition calling for the City Council to strike down the recently approved project.

The appeal, which was filed by Vincent Leung and 13 other co-signers, is the latest skirmish between developers looking to build in downtown Palo Alto and residents who argue that the new proposals are incompatible with their neighborhoods. The City Council is set to consider the appeal on June 20.

In recent years, the number of appeals of new downtown projects have shot up, with mixed-use proposals at 636 Waverley St. and 240 Hamilton Ave. surviving challenges from residents in late 2013.

Another mixed-use project, at 429 University Ave., was forced back to the drawing board by the City Council last November after residents similarly claimed that it doesn't fit in with the neighborhood. The project has since undergone a design makeover, though residents maintain that the planned building remains too massive and out of scale.

The latest appeal targets a development proposed for 411-437 Lytton Ave., which includes renovations to an existing single-story home (including construction of a new basement) and construction of a new three-story, 19,838-square-foot building with 13,522 square feet of office space and two residential units on the top floor. It also includes a two-level underground parking garage, which would be accessed from Kipling Street.

Though the project has succeeded in securing recent approvals from the city's Historic Resources and Architectural Review boards, residents maintain that it's incompatible with the area and that it would bring severe traffic congestion to Kipling, which appellants argue is too narrow to accommodate the traffic the new development would generate.

In his appeal letter, Leung argues that the intersection of Lytton and Kipling is already extremely busy during rush hour and building a garage in that corner could create traffic hazards.

Some cars, Leung wrote, would queue up on the garage ramp during the busy hours, possibly blocking the sidewalk. Others would try to avoid Lytton by taking Kipling to Everett Avenue, near Johnston Park, he wrote.

"Diverting traffic from a two-story parking garage to small residential streets will increase the risk for pedestrians in the area," the letter states. "Even without this project there are already recent reports of accidents in this area."

Critics are also arguing in their appeal that the proposed building is out of scale with the neighborhood and it would intrude on the privacy of neighbors, particularly given its second-floor terrace and a garden.

At the March 17 meeting of the Architectural Review Board, Leung argued that the noise impact from the new development will be significant, particularly from the new building's proposed second-story terrace. If the office space is rented out to a tech startup, Leung said, people are working around the clock and disturbing the residents next door.

"It's just going to be a big noise problem close to these residential people living next to it," said Leung, whose Kipling Street home is directly across from the site of the proposed development.

Height is also an issue for the project's opponents. Leung and his fellow appellants argue that the 40-foot building would not be compatible with the block's "modest two-story homes" and that there are "no buildings as large to be found for hundreds of feet in any direction." The appeal argues that the project in "vastly different in scale and massing" from neighboring buildings.

"Its windows, bays, doorways, and entryways are unlike those on nearby residences," the appeal states, arguing that the project "inserts a massive commercial building into a modest residential neighborhood that include historic properties."

Leung's appeal is co-signed by 12 other downtown property owners -- Neilson Buchanan, Malcolm Beasley, Tricia Dolkas, Michael Griffin, Diane Hakansson, Michael Hodos, Yen Nguyen, Marion Odell, Janice Sedriks, Carolyn and Bob Taber, and Jessica Woodside -- as well as JC Andrade, a partner at Vino Locale, a wine bar at 431 Kipling St.

Architectural Review Board (ARB) member Wynne Furth agreed with the critics that the proposed development doesn't meet the city's compatibility standards. The challenge of building on Lytton, she said, is figuring out "how to build at a higher intensity without damaging the pattern of the neighborhood that moves on toward the creek."

"I don't think this building does it," Furth said at the March 17 hearing. "I don't think it does it in terms of the way it works, and I don't think it does it in terms of the way it looks, which isn't to say I have any particular objection to the building as a detached entity somewhere else. ... In particular, the design as it functions is not going to make for a happy neighborhood situation."

Furth, however, was the lone dissenting voice as the board voted 3-1 to approve the project. Planning staff is also recommending that the City Council deny the appeal and let the project go forward.

As part of the approval, staff and the ARB required the development to include automatic night shades on the second-floor offices facing residents and landscaping to separate the building from adjacent homes on Kipling. Staff has also included in its approval a condition that the terrace be only used from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and not at all on the weekends.

City staff and the ARB also concluded that the project is compatible with its surroundings and that it meets all the development standards for the site, which means that the building setbacks, site coverage, height and density of the new development meet code and do not require design exemptions.

The resident appeal of the development will appear on the council's "consent calendar," which means that the appeal would be automatically denied without discussion unless three council members agree to remove the item from the calendar. If the council removes the item, it would schedule a new public hearing to discuss the merits of the appeal and consider whether to uphold staff's decision, reject the application or require further adjustments to the building's design.

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Comments

58 people like this
Posted by Save our toen
a resident of University South
on Jun 16, 2016 at 8:26 am

Thanks to all who appeal these oversized buildings. The traffic and parking problems they create are destroying Palo Alto.


13 people like this
Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Too big? It fits within the zoning and therefore follows the city's rules and is therefore not too big. The discretionary review by council is out of control and not fair


43 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I cringe whenever I hear a new office building, I think we have enough office buildings for a while now, we may need to revisit the issue in 10 years. Adding one or two residential units is a joke.


35 people like this
Posted by Architectize
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2016 at 1:09 pm

The language used by local architects is sometimes dishonest. Is this Hayes Group building "compatible" with its surroundings? No.
If the definition is "compatible with the financial profit," yes; but compatible with surrounding buildings, no.

Another dishonest manipulation of the language is the frequent use of "design enhancement" exception. Translation into architectize: make it bigger. Not more interesting, not more creative, just bigger, more profitable.

I'm sure there are honest architects around, but they aren't very visible in these office projects.


28 people like this
Posted by grace anyone?
a resident of University South
on Jun 17, 2016 at 4:40 am

Why does this particular architectural firm have such monopoly on new buildings in Palo Alto? Might as well drop the name Palo Alto and name the town after themselves. They seem to be everywhere now and the outcome, in my opinion, is quite tragic, if I may say so. There is absolutely no grace whatsoever in the design of these buildings. I have to to look away whenever I pass one which is all too frequent these days. They seem too angular, out of scale and massive, completely dismissive of their surroundings; and, yes, a building like this and its construction would impoverish a historic district, obviously. We hear talk of innovation, creativity and spirit in this town. Hello? This all seems like business as usual to me. I support the appeal.


13 people like this
Posted by onewhoknows
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Glad residents are raising objections to this latest Hayes Group monstrosity. I live across the street from 636 Waverley. It is a "smaller" Hayes Group project, i.e. occupies only one lot, but it's outsize for the block (between Forest and Hamilton -- take a look, especially the massing relative to the rest of the street and the nonexistent setbacks) at 50 feet high. In the THREE years since construction began, life on the block has been constantly disrupted by huge concrete machines, digging, cranes, and plenty of hammering, all day long, including Saturdays. It's still a hideous, gigantic, tarpaper-covered shell with brutalist dark grey concrete walls. Obviously this thing will never be finished in time to meet the city's construction deadline and I'm sure the owner and Hayes have decided a $250g late penalty is trivial compared to the money they'll make by selling four luxury condos (it was supposed to be mixed use, but the owner changed his mind in midstream).

We need an end to outsize buildings, an end to 'penalties' that are meaningless given the disruption they cause the neighbors, and an end to the kind of nonsense that equates a giant soulless box with the character of Palo Alto. Please watch for when this comes up on appeal (after ARB's vacation, it seems), go to the meeting(s), pass the word to your neighbors,and raise hell. This neighborhood is ours, not the developers'.


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

"Why does this particular architectural firm have such monopoly on new buildings in Palo Alto?"

Talent costs money. Hayes works cheap. Why would a group of investors pay more for a building they will seldom, if ever, see?


10 people like this
Posted by Architectize
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Last night at the City Council (Kniss, Wohlbach, Burt) asked for a hearing to convert 100 Addison Ave (Addison Antiques site) zoning to Office.

Thank you, council members Kniss, Wohlbach and Burt for continuing to support more and more and more office construction.
Can we also expect you will approve reduced parking, because it is near the train, as you have done so often?
It is helpful to know who has gotten us into this mess, and who continues to work for the moneyed developers, not for the residents of this town.


5 people like this
Posted by YIMBY (yes to development)
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Development downtown strengthens our retail core and reduces traffic by putting more housing near transit and jobs. This makes me so sad.

I live in this neighborhood and SUPPORT this projects and others like it. When will we all wake up and stop being so selfish, our progressive, green, Palo-Alto-awesomeness is at stake - which is the whole reason I live here! It is a tiny project that will clean up the area, for Pete's sake go volunteer. Our residents sound like spoiled selfish kids. Have some vision!


14 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2016 at 4:52 pm

"Development downtown strengthens our retail core and reduces traffic by putting more housing near transit and jobs."

What housing? This project is fronted as a "mixed use" development with some housing, which makes for easier approval in city hall. But no official will ever check whether the housing part has people living it or has somehow morphed into premium executive office suites.


3 people like this
Posted by onewhoknows
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 28, 2016 at 10:24 am

'I live in this neighborhood and SUPPORT this projects and others like it. When will we all wake up and stop being so selfish, our progressive, green, Palo-Alto-awesomeness is at stake - which is the whole reason I live here! It is a tiny project that will clean up the area, for Pete's sake go volunteer. Our residents sound like spoiled selfish kids. Have some vision!'

I wake up every morning to the sound of construction. It's been that way for THREE years. May I suggest that you try doing the same? There will be no quote, AWESOMENESS in Palo Alto until there's an end to the construction of these lifeless monstrosities that house only the rich and enrich only the investors and developers. What kind of town do you want to leave your kids? Do a little research (as a volunteer, which is what we are) and come help us fight for our community.


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