Bulky concrete will give way to glass and limestone just north of the prominent corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road after Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board approved on Thursday a proposal to demolish a six-story Brutalist building and replace it with a glassier four-story structure.
By a 4-0 vote, with Peter Baltay absent, the board voted to approve a plan by Sand Hill Property Company to demolish the six-story Brutalist building at 2600 El Camino Real and build a development with a more modern design and a two-level garage on the site. The new development, like the existing one, will have a floor area of 62,616 square feet.
In applying for the project, Sand Hill argued the new building would allow the city to replace an obsolete 1966 building that does not comply with many zoning codes with a modern, code-compliant commercial development.
The existing building, for example, is 81 feet tall; the new one would fall within the city's 50-foot height limit. The existing one, the letter notes, falls 56 parking spaces below the code requirements; the new one would include 258 parking spots, as required by code.
The new project will also meet the city's landscape and shading requirements, which the existing building does not, the letter states.
The new development has already undergone several revisions to address the board's prior concerns. At its Dec. 15 hearing, several members took issue with the layout of the parking garage and demanded more details about the structure. They also requested that the architect improve the pedestrian pathways between the parking facility and the building.
In response, Sand Hill provided a more detailed plan with a parking structure that, according to Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, “relates to the main building by mirroring some of the similar architectural materials and themes.” This includes white metal panels along the north side of the garage, which faces the offices, and a garage elevator with form and materials “similar as the main building.”
“The proposed changes provide visual and thematic connectivity between the main building and the garage,” a report from Gitelman states.
Board members agreed and praised Sand Hill for addressing their concerns. Wynne Furth, who in the prior meeting urged Sand Hill to make sure that the new offices don't violate the privacy of the residents in an adjacent building that is now under construction by Stanford University, said Thursday that she was satisfied with Sand Hill's response.
City planning staff had determined since the Dec. 15 hearing that there is sufficient distance between the two buildings to ensure privacy and that the architect's use of obscured glass balcony panels would further preserve privacy, according to the staff report.
“I really appreciate the care and thoroughness with which you addressed our concerns,” Furth told project architect Clifford Chang on Thursday.
Board Chair Alexander Lew and board member Robert Gooyer agreed, with Gooyer saying he is “very impressed” with Sand Hill's latest submission. And board member Kyu Kim said that from the “overall standpoint, the revision has addressed the overarching concerns we had.”
“I'd be more than comfortable recommending approval of the project,” Kim said.
The board's vote effectively ensures that the project will proceed. Because the proposal complies with existing zoning, it does not need to be reviewed by either the Planning and Transportation Commission or the City Council, barring an appeal of the decision.