Palo Alto's effort to re-imagine a 60-acre section of the Ventura neighborhood is set to kick off in earnest in September, when the city's newly hired consultant and freshly appointed citizens group hold their first meeting on the ambitious project.
The City Council approved on June 25 a $769,068 contract with the firm Perkins + Will, which will lead the 18-month effort to develop the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a blueprint for redeveloping a section of the city that officials believe is ripe for change. Located just south of the California Avenue Business District, the area includes a parcel known as the Fry's site (named after tenant Fry's Electronics), a commercial campus that city planners believe can accommodate more than 200 housing units.
The new plan is also expected to include proposals for making Ventura a more "walkable" neighborhood, with ground-floor retail, a public park and creek improvements, according to the city.
In securing the contract, Perkins + Will beat out three other firms, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. The firm will work with five sub-consultants, which will be focused, respectively, on transportation, community engagement, economics, civil engineering and environmental impacts.
In selecting Perkins + Will, Palo Alto staff pointed to the firm's experience in formulating similar land-use plans. The firm has also worked on Menlo Park's Downtown and El Camino Real Specific Plan and on the Downtown Concord Specific Plan. It is now in the midst of putting together the Downtown San Mateo Specific Plan and the Tasman East Specific Plan in the city of Santa Clara.
In May, the council appointed a 14-member working group to work with staff, the consultants and the city's various boards and commissions on the new plan.
For the Palo Alto City Council, the formation of the Ventura plan is the most ambitious neighborhood-focused planning exercise since the creation of the South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) plan nearly two decades ago. Spurred by the relocation of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the two-phased SOFA plan created new standards for retail and other types of development in the downtown area and prompted the creation of Heritage Park.
Since then, the city had since pursued "concept area plans" in the East Meadow Circle area and around the California Avenue Business District. Neither of these plans was ultimately adopted by the council.
The Ventura plan is funded largely through a grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which authorized a $638,000 grant for the exercise in September. The Sobrato Organization, which owns the Fry's site, has also contributed $250,000 for the effort, of which $138,000 is allocated for environmental analysis.
The funding agreement requires that the project be completed no later than June 2020, according to the staff report.