'Workforce housing' project scores a victory | News | Palo Alto Online |


'Workforce housing' project scores a victory

Architectural Review Board narrowly approves design of proposed 57-unit development on El Camino Real

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A developer looking to build a 57-unit apartment building on the prominent corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road eked out an important victory Thursday morning, when Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board endorsed the project.

The board voted 3-2, with members Robert Gooyer and Osma Thompson dissenting, to recommend approving the development at 2755 El Camino Real, a site that has long served as a parking lot for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. If approved by the City Council, the development would be Palo Alto's first example of a "workforce housing" development, with units ranging from 502 square feet to 645 square feet in floor area. In addition, six units would be designated for residents making 120 percent of area median income (which for a single renter, amounts to about $95,000).

The project is also the city's first example of a "car-light" development, with a reduced parking requirement (the development includes 64 spaces) and an ambitious "transportation-demand management" program with incentives for tenants to avoid owning cars. These include Caltrain and VTA passes, car-share services and bikes for residents to use.

The board's decision followed three public hearings and numerous design revisions, which included a new decorative band along the roof line and a sun shade on the southward-facing walls of the building. The features were added to respond to the board's earlier concerns about the need to better define the top of the four-story building.

Even with the changes, the project almost failed to win the board's approval. Gooyer and Thompson both argued that the architects still haven't gone far enough to address its earlier critiques. Board Vice Chair Peter Baltay also said he cannot support the project, noting that the project is setting an important precedent and, as such, the bar for granting approval should be high.

But just as the project was on the verge of getting voted down, Baltay changed his mind and voted to support it. Even though he argued that the design could be better, he also noted that the project has improved over the course of the hearings. He also noted that the project by Windy Hill Property Ventures is one the community needs.

"This is a project that's made every effort to come together," Baltay said. "I want to see it move forward."

Board Chair Wynne Furth and board member Alexander Lew were far less ambivalent. Both lauded the recent design improvements and said they can support the project. Furth said the location of the development, just blocks from the California Avenue Business District, is good for the proposed use. She said she is happy to see the project move ahead.

"I've been working with people who want to build housing for 50 years. There's always something wrong with every housing project; they're never perfect," Furth said. "But you're not required to make me happy, you're required to give me a project good enough for me to make the findings we're required to make. And I can make these findings."

Thompson acknowledged that the project is very important but argued that the architecture is "not high quality." Gooyer agreed and, like Baltay, argued that as a precedent setter, the project should be "cream of the crop" when it comes to design.

"If we keep allowing projects that we don't really think are the top quality available to come through, it'll become the norm," Gooyer said. "We have to put our foot down somewhere and say, 'We want high-quality architecture.'"

Related content:

Plan for 'car-light' housing on El Camino wins support

Plan for 'car-light' development on El Camino draws mixed reviews


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106 people like this
Posted by Architectural Failure
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2018 at 9:56 am

Yet again the ARB has failed the citizens of Palo Alto.

When you identify the MOST important corners in Palo Alto, the intersection of ECR and Page Mill is at the top of the list.

Instead of demanding well thought out architecture, the ARB allows yet another cheapo developer to permanently blight the town.

This is a bad building and the ARB knows it. Just because we want what's in the wrapper should not provide a "get out of jail" card for poor architecture.

Lets recap the ARB's failures...

JCC (Monstrosity at PA south entry)
Alma Village (pocket parks---laughable excuse)
J&R Market Replacement (This is so bad it should be torn down)
801 Alma (Created canyon on Alma)
435 University (OMG...Kipling Street will be ruined)
636 Waverly (Concrete grave marker...no context)

and many others too numerous to detail.

Please grow a spine and say NO to more of these horrible architectural examples.

90 people like this
Posted by CT resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2018 at 10:35 am

I'm so tired of this style of building creeping up everywhere. It looks so 2015....
Are architects, developers and the ARBs really this uncreative and oblivious to the cultural history of a town? They have an amazing theme (the university) and just keep building eyesores, like the clustermess @ College & El Camino. What is up with the concrete multi-level blocks right up against El Camino? It is starting to feel like a tunel driving down parts of El Camino.
Also, this rendering is so misleading. The traffic is never "light" at that intersection. It would be a bummer for whoever ends up living there. There should be a significant set-back from the intersection with some trees...make it more pleasant for everyone!

60 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:33 am

Well-designed tasteful architecture costs more than cookie-cutter cardboard. As long as the ARB is willing to sign-off on every eyesore that comes across its table then that's you'll continue to get. If a developer can make $100 million on a tasteful building or $101 million on an eyesore disgrace, guess which one they will build...

29 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:37 am

Fantastic. That's at least 57 workers walking or bicycling to their jobs in Palo Alto instead of driving in from Gilroy (which clogs the roads and parking). More, please!

84 people like this
Posted by Company town takeover
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Well, at least the headline doesn’t even pretend to cover that this is for the sake of the Palantirs and company town pushers who really should find a place they can grow without having to destroy what is there or at the expense of the community. “is one the community needs.” is wrong, though, we don’t need this, the Palantirs WANTS this to house their short-term entry-level workers. Our community needs something like this like we need a hole in the head.

74 people like this
Posted by Company town takeover
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Better that we enforced the zoning code and ensured we had a viable downtiwn again for residents, instead of transforming Palo Alto into an even more congested office park. What evidence do you have that all of those people and their spouses will walk to work and Costco and evening entertainment and school not be glad to be so close to Page Mill onramp to 280?

27 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:25 pm


This kind of project is much needed in Palo Alto. Thank you, ARB, for approving.

89 people like this
Posted by Zeus
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:33 pm

There's a six unit condo building recently built on Curtner Ave where at least 4 out of 6 condos are being rented out fully furnished to long term business travelers for $225/night-$320/night. The property owner leases the units to a company who then sub-leases the units to corporate tenants (Apple, Google, SAP, Tesla). It would not surprise me at all if this building were marketed in a similar fashion. A disgusting way to use public facility land.

33 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Company town takeover, hope you saw the Bloomberg article on Palantir.

Web Link

80 people like this
Posted by Terrible Project
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2018 at 12:49 pm

This project is a disaster. We should not be granting it loads of exemptions just so a wealthy developer can charge well above market rate for overpriced apartments. Rather, this scarce public facility site should be reserved for true affordable housing serving those earning 60% and under the area median income.

Trickle-down housing doesn't work. Building luxury-priced units doesn't help the rest of us. Claiming this project is good for Palo Alto is a cover-up: it's really about enriching developers.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Oh boy! Do I ever feel dumb and embarrassed! I thought the project had already gone through that step. I have commented so many times on this project so I won't bore anyone by repeating them. Basically, I said "let it go through as a test case of an under parked development that would be rental priced and sized for our single, maybe married couples/significant others, who work in my town as techies". It is obviously not intended for the 'very low income', and 'low income' workers and families who serve our community. Anyone who thinks that is the case is WRONG!

The Wilton Ave project is designed for that segment of our population. Be patient...very patient! That will have to go through the same long approval process while current CC members will applaud themselves and lay claim to both of those projects being successes and ones they were responsible for coming to fruition! Oh, yes, there is an election year ahead of us! It's time to haul out those success story speeches.

Let's wait for the first tenants to actually move into and live in either of those projects' units. Then there may be cause for celebration. Until then...keep your powder dry. And my cheap, actually free, advice to current CC members or wannabies...it might be good, and serve you well, to remain quiet, because anything you might say or offer re housing, affordable or BMR, just won't sell very well anymore. Your voting constituents are getting a lot smarter and savvy about your political motives and your political speak, vote grabber, comments.

If I ever hear about how CC helped save BV from extinction, or forced evacuation, I might throw up. Again, that is a case where a lot of city and county money was spent to save a rundown motor home/RV park. I supported it at the time, as what I thought was the only way to keep that small population of people in our community and making sure their kids could get the benefit of a good education from our local schools and graduating from high school from Gunn. Times have changed. The sale was completed and now there is a new owner and manager. What's going on there and are any of our CC members willing to talk about it, or do they still claim it as a success story?

You know me. I always have questions! Better get used to it...I'm not going away, at least soon, I hope. When the current residents, who were apparently grandfathered in, die, how will their estate and property owned at BV be handled? Will their heirs also be grandfathered in and get the benefit of living there, while maybe making family incomes above the limit that now exists?

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Add the word 'not' between 'least' and 'soon' in the first line of the last paragraph.

45 people like this
Posted by PAF is cheering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 4:52 pm

The 120% median income units sound ideal for Millenial tech workers (our local "workforce" housing beneficiaries.

43 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2018 at 5:04 pm

Again t\he ARB gave priority to its fundamental conflict of interest: its members fear to risk alienating developers who are potential clients by being objective. The ARB should be repopulated with responsible, non-architect citizens.

61 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2018 at 10:44 pm

I am very worried about the "car light" designation for this development. I don't see how a car light component can be enforceable.

74 people like this
Posted by PA buildings are hideous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:44 pm

The uglification of Palo Alto continues.

43 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:46 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

It will become a shining new dormitory for educational tourism where international families will house their children two to a room.

The building won't need parking spots because the remote parents will pay for chaperoned shuttle buses to take them to Paly during the day, then to Kumon for after school tutoring on nights and weekends and over to tech camps during holiday breaks.

Who needs to plop down $3M to $5M for a ghost house when you can simply stay at the new PAUSD youth hostel?

30 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2018 at 11:46 pm

If they are wiling to live in tight quarters, what prevents families with 1-2 kids moving in?

60 people like this
Posted by PSJ
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2018 at 9:02 am

These new residents are going to give up half of their cars for some VTA passes, loaner cars, and bike sharing? Since there's no viable mechanism to actually enforce this "car light" wishful thinking, we can expect an additional 25-50 cars to be parked on neighborhood streets during evenings and weekends. Once again, the City gets out-negotiated on the most basic of requirements, for another developer giveaway. On the bright side, at least any new driveways at that intersection will be lightly used, causing fewer rear-enders.

55 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2018 at 9:58 am

With 10% allocated to people making $95K and the rest market rate, this isn’t “workforce housing” for any workforce but the high-income one at Facebook and Palantir. Spinning it as for low and middle-earners is a complete lie. This isn’t a public use, it’s a handout to developers, tech companies, and a few high-income YIMBYs.

4 people like this
Posted by Foreign Investors
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2018 at 10:17 am

Foreign Paly high school students take math and science classes for “no credit” at schools in Cupertino. Then they retake the classes “for credit” at Paly in order to get a high grade in the course. Almost 50 percent of Paly students are non Caucasian, according to the statistics the city recently published in the paper.

41 people like this
Posted by C M
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 23, 2018 at 10:27 am

Even Mountain View does not want this style of building anymore. See MV Voice article "City Council unhappy with 'boxy' new developments." Now Palo Alto is getting and approving Mountain View's reject buildings.

Improvement should not be a criteria in approving a project. Passing a project because it's not as ugly as it was the last time the board saw it is stupid policy. It only incentivizes people to start off with horrible projects so they can slide through simply by saying they improved. I thought the ARB was supposed to approve projects based on their architectural merits, not based on whether or not they think we need housing.

It's obvious from watching the meetings the developers were doing the minimum they could possibly do to get 3 votes. It's too bad our ARB has such low standards.

4 people like this
Posted by Architectural Critic
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2018 at 11:10 am

Hey @ArchitecturalFailure... I'd love for you to join the ARB, or at least submit your comments publicly.

The ARB had three hearings to make their final decision and we're calling it a failure? If you think they're doing a poor job [portion removed] go join the board.

18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2018 at 11:36 am

Annette is a registered user.

About Palo Alto architecture in general (not this specific project):

For a city with good bones and lovely historic (for CA) buildings we've approved some visually appalling developments. Stanford does a MUCH better job of adding to its built environment in such a way that the new stands with the old in an aesthetically pleasing way.

We should be able to do better. Maybe those tapped to design buildings here should channel their inner Arrillaga.

33 people like this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Ben Lerner is a registered user.

Regarding the “car-lite” thing, is there a way that residents of this project can be prohibited from parking on public streets?

48 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:28 pm

I am extremely skeptical that the elimination of parking spaces will translate into residents owing significantly fewer cars. That sounds like a lot of wishful thinking being used to allow greater and more profitable buildout at the expense of on-street parking.

25 people like this
Posted by Developers rejoice
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:30 pm

[Post removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:31 pm

No ... bad idea!

Wwe build more housing, but to make sure anyone living there knows
they are second class worker droids in Palo Alto put them on the most
congested corner with the most cars and car exhaust in the air at a
time when the air quality is starting to creep down again, and not too
far from the train tracks so they can't get good sleep, and don't let
them have space to park their cars.

Why not just build barracks. Even the Navy workers at Moffett field
used to be able to have cars.

Not to mention it is an ugly building blocking the views of the whole
area jammed right up to the street.

Will people live there ... probably ... so I guess that means anything
you can do against them to make their lives more miserable is fine?

What kind of an idiot comes up with this stuff?

18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@PSJ - I doubt the City is being out-negotiated as this is no doubt aligned with the Council majority's housing agenda. City Staff's as well.

@Online Name - thanks for the link to the Bloomberg article about Palantir. There are some disturbing parallels to Cambridge Analytica. It is concerning that City officials are so chummy with a data mining company.

And to the City: how about NOT courting all other such developments until 3 years after this building is occupied? That should be sufficient time to analyze the outcome of: marketing, occupancy, car-light, impact on neighborhood, etc. If all the dreams come true, Windy Hill et al can look forward to repeating the experiment. If not, trust in City leadership will be further eroded and hosed residents will increase their resistance to future proposals such as this one. Deal?

20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Annette, you're welcome. Here's a link to some other recent coverage on Palantir from the NYT and other sources including two specifically claiming that Palantir assisted Cambridge Analytica. Web Link

Yes, it's very concerning, esp. since one of their hallmarks is their divide-and-conquer political tactics that discourage substantive consideration of the issues.

Re car-light developments in San Francisco, there's lots of press coverage and anecdotal comments about how neighborhoods near the "car-lite" developments there are being inundated by spill-over parking.

21 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm

"That [car-lite thing] sounds like a lot of wishful thinking being used to allow greater and more profitable buildout at the expense of on-street parking."

It is, but an eagerly gullible city hall can't wait to swallow it. They feel good now, somebody else pays later.

25 people like this
Posted by Sheri Furman
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Sheri Furman is a registered user.

Re: the link to the Bloomberg article on Palantir, the most laughable statement (at those to us in PA) is "Palantir said it has a strict policy against working on political issues."

34 people like this
Posted by Evergreen Park Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 23, 2018 at 3:19 pm

I am pleased to see that many of the Palo Alto residents commenting on this piece have finally woken up to what the ARB, the City Staff, and a majority of
City Council members are up to -- make the developers happy and refuse to charge any meaningful business tax. Why? Because developers will fund Council members' next campaigns -- if not for City Council, then for the next rung up the political ladder -- and because the City staff can always leave for a very lucrative position with their favorite developer.

The Palo Alto Weekly is no better . . . . Anything the Council spits out is wonderful, and accepted with no critical analysis. Remember, the Weekly lives on advertising, and most of that is from . . . real estate folks.

120% of median income is laughable, and really, what teacher or fireperson or police person wants to live in a micro unit? The next ghetto. People have spotted it for what it is . . .. a place for coders to spend the night during the week, for Airbnb rentals as hotel space, etc. This isn't for families at all.

Finally, the car-lite thing is a joke. You can't enforce a no-car policy. With no decent public transportation, just how do you think these folks will do their grocery shopping, get to medical appointments, etc? Taking Uber everywhere is yet again an affluent person's solution.

I really hope the citizens of Palo Alto who can vote in the next election will see through the outrageous campaign deceptions and elect a City Council that works for people who live here. That doesn't mean being anti-business, but it does mean a more balance approach.

Just driving by 801 Alma, and driving by the hideous signage at Alma Center makes me ill. 801 Alma looks like a fortress -- as does the JCC which Mayor Kniss is so proud of. We can do better.

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

You can bet that that one liner from Eric Rosenblum will trump (that's a bridge term, bridge is a card game) all the other very valid questions, concerns, and comments made by dozens of others about this project. CC's majority is so happy to hear about the ARB vote and are always the cheering section for Eric. I think that review was the only high hurdle in the event, certainly the last one. It should be smooth sailing from now on.

Initially I argued that the zoning shouldn't have been changed. It was anyway, taking the property away from any possible future use by our city. My approval of it to go forward as a test case for the "Workforce Housing" ordinance was conditional and predicated on what I knew about the project at the time. I posted several times about the illusory 'support' arguments for it, that were intended to convince us that for a certain percentage of the prospective tenants, all income levels up to 120% AMI would be included. After that, Katie bar the door...back up to current market rate, or higher, whatever the market will bear these days. I hoped that many others would see through that facade.

Then I finally capitulated and thought, okay, yes, it would be good to have workers in PA be able to live here, closer to their jobs without having to deal with long commutes, knowing the project was really meant for tech level income workers, and more specifically, Palintir employees. But, I also had a major concern about the under parked issue. I proposed future tenants sign lease agreements, saying they didn't own a car and wouldn't own a car while they lived there. Nice try, Gale (always thinking but so naive at times). It could be easily tracked by DMV records but who would do the tracking? Future tenants could say anything, knowing full well the developer or PA wouldn't do anything, back-checking, to verify it. There would be no tracking, other than from complaints by residents in the neighborhood who would feel the burden from overflow cars parked on their streets and in front of their driveways.

So here we are again..."a nice dilemma, we have here"...from Gilbert and Sullivan. Prospective CC members will use this in their campaign ads and claim it as a victory for housing and one they supported.

I look at many posts, but I try to always look at Annette's. So solid in her thinking while trying her best to be polite in responding to the proponents of very bad ideas in our city.

12 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2018 at 5:02 pm

The problem with this design is that the units are too large to be affordable at market rates. Make them smaller like in Singapore. Eventually you end up with a unit normal people can afford. There will actually be a size that will meet demand and the rents will reflect that market size. Just think Berkeley dormitories. One car parking space should be provided for each person in the building. Otherwise it will be CAR HEAVY on the streets. I challenge any of the folks who are building, financing or approving these buildings not to have access to a car 24/7. Hey, anyone on the council not have access to a car 24/7? What about those reserved parking places at City Hall?

32 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Funny, this is the first time I've heard this project refereed to as "workforce housing".

An attempt by the developer and the sycophants on council to reset expectation to what they were planning all along?

24 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

The new George Orwell of 2018. Rather than doublspeak we get reversespeak where everything coming out of the government means the opposite.

High speed rail is actually slow speed rail

Below market rate housing is actually above market rate housing

Car Lite is actually Traffic Heavy.

What's next, we Negative Taxes?

36 people like this
Posted by It is Public Facility land!! Not for profit.
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2018 at 4:59 pm

Yes the design is awful, but worse is that if this building goes forward it will be stealing land from the citizens of Palo Alto. This property is zoned "public facility". It is supposed to be used for something useful to the public - like medical centers, child day care facility, nature center, animal shelter, public fields or public meeting rooms - you get the idea.

What it is not suppose to be used for is to allow some greedy developer to put up tiny overpriced and under parked apartments - allowing them a huge profit and adding another eye-sore to the city of Palo Alto while denying us use of a public facility property.

This project does nothing for the public and should be denied. The developer bought it and took a chance that they could convince (bribe) the city into rezoning the property. They should be denied and told to go find a public use for it.

5 people like this
Posted by Still here
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 24, 2018 at 6:23 pm

@It is Public Facility land!! Not for profit

Before your post got deleted ... refer to the one above. George Orwell ... Private use = good for public.
After all, it trickles down, doesn't it?

Sad is that in THIS area people let themselves be duped.

5 people like this
Posted by DW
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 24, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Nice project! The only negative is that it is only 5 stories. We should build higher density in Silicon Valley, especially near jobs and along major thoroughfares.

30 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2018 at 12:23 am


It is easy and quite callous to cheerlead for quality of life destroying density in other neighborhoods and next other people's homes. "Near jobs" and "along major thoroughfares" are just euphemisms like the "other side of the tracks".

How about 5+ story developments in Santa Rita (Los Blancos)? Or a 5+ story, out to the lot line, development next to your home Mr. Developer?

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2018 at 9:17 pm

Someone like Joni Mitchell or Adam Duritz should write a song about the good old days when Palo Alto had parking lots.

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 4, 2018 at 10:48 pm

Watching the council meeting tonight was a huge disappointment.

After going more than two hours over-schedule discussing, ad-nauseum, whether to tax on soda or hotels, the council had the gall to violate due process and restrict the 24+ citizen speakers to only a single minute of speaking time.

It's incredibly poor judgement, and unfair, to make citizens wait for hours, to then restrict their time to half of the standard.

My opinion is that adding housing is fine. This particular project is 90% market rate and 10% "140-150% median income units", on a parcel zones for public benefit! In other words, this parcel is zoned for the public good (i.e. a park), and we are GIVING IT AWAY to a 100% for-profit developer. So I'm against this particular project, without significant benefits from the developer - either fees to the community, or focus the project on affordable housing.

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