After seeing its initial bid rebuffed by Palo Alto officials, the development team looking to construct a four-story building at the bustling intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road is having another go.
This time, however, the project is focusing on housing, rather than office space, according to plans obtained by the Weekly.
Under the new proposal, which the City Council is set to consider after it returns from its summer break, the former Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) parking lot on the northeastern corner of the intersection would be occupied by a building with 60 apartments. Half of these would be studios; the other half would be one-bedroom units.
The proposal is a marked departure from the plan the property owner presented to the council last September. Though the earlier proposal included four residential units and retail space on the ground floor, the bulk of it consisted of office space. Given the council's recent efforts to cap new office development and limit traffic congestion, that proposal was soundly rejected, with council members saying that they'd prefer to see more housing at the prominent site near the city's geographic center.
At the Sept. 15, 2015, meeting, Councilman Cory Wolbach said he would be worried about having a development that would bring in more jobs than housing units -- a major issue in a city that has about three jobs for every employed resident. He encouraged the developer, Pollock Financial Group, to find a way to put as many residential units in the site as it can.
Other council members offered similar views, with Councilman Marc Berman citing the city's "acute housing crisis" and both Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman saying they would support housing at the site.
The council has plenty of leverage when it comes to this particular parcel. Because it is zoned for a "public facility," the developer needs a zone change before proceeding with any kind of residential, commercial or mixed-use project. Last year, the council summarily rejected the proposal from Pollock to rezone the site to "community commercial" and encouraged the developer to seek a different zoning designation, one that would allow a high volume of residential units.
While the new plans submitted by Pollock don't specify what type of zoning the developer will request, the decision to devote most of the project to housing suggests that it could be RM-40, which allows the highest density of residential use. The downside of this designation, from the council's standpoint, is that it does not allow for ground-floor retail, a feature that council members have been strongly encouraging in recent years.
In that sense, the absence of ground-floor retail at one of the most visible and bustling corners in Palo Alto may prove to be the new project's biggest drawback. During the September discussion, both Holman and Scharff said they would like to see retail there, even as they acknowledged that the zoning would not allow it.
In the past, the council addressed issues such as this by approving "planned-community" zones, which allow the city and the developer to bypass certain zoning regulations to achieve projects that provide public benefits. But with public furor rising over new developments (and the failure of some developers to deliver the promised public benefits), the council agreed in 2014 to impose a moratorium on planned-community projects.
While the new proposal lacks retail, it does offer the council something that members have been clamoring for: small apartments catering to young professionals. The 30 studios in the plan are each 501 square feet. The one-bedroom apartments will range from 545 square feet to 710 square feet.
The development would also include an underground garage with 45 parking spaces, some of them created through the use of a stacked parking system, according to plans obtained by the Weekly.