For the second time in two weeks, the Palo Alto City Council approved on Tuesday night moving ahead with construction of a new garage that would add hundreds of spots to a badly congested commercial area.
But unlike the parking structure that the council approved for the California Avenue area earlier this month, the five-story downtown garage would have a retail component, the council decided by a unanimous vote. Once built, the new facility would have about 339 spaces and one level of basement parking.
The council's unanimous vote underscores the severe nature of downtown's parking challenges. While members are typically extremely cautious about approving tall and bulky buildings in the downtown area, the new garage moved ahead despite its 50-foot height. And just like with the California Avenue facility, the council agreed to go with the priciest of the options, choosing the only alternative on the menu that includes a basement.
The new garage would go up on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street, currently the site of a city-owned parking lot with 86 spaces.
Public Works staff had recommended moving ahead with a five-story garage with a retail component but without a basement. That proposal would have accommodated about 291 cars. The one that the council approved would have 339 spaces, up to 3,800 square feet of retail and a price tag of more than $20 million.
While the council agreed that it's critical to boost downtown's parking supply, Councilwoman Karen Holman wondered about the visual impact of the new facility. Most buildings around Hamilton and Waverley are one or two stories, she noted.
But despite Holman's concerns about whether the new garage will satisfy downtown's urban-design guidelines, others were more comfortable moving ahead with the new facility, which is part of an infrastructure plan that the council approved in 2014.
Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, who made the motion to include a basement and retail in the new garage, said construction of the facility is compatible with the council's other recent actions on parking, including a new permit program aimed at steering downtown employees away from residential streets. The different parking initiatives, she said, "really play into each other."
"We're talking about supply," Kniss said. "This is more supply -- pretty substantial supply."
Councilman Tom DuBois was less excited about going with the most expensive option and leaned toward the cheaper alternative proposed by staff.
"I don't think we can go with a Cadillac version on every single infrastructure project," DuBois said.
If things go as planned, the city will complete the design of the new garage by September 2018 and complete construction by winter 2020.