News

City set to review affordable-housing project

Proposal by Palo Alto Housing set to go through public hearings next month

Palo Alto Housing plans to bring a three-story development with 61 units of below-market-rate housing to a site at 3705 El Camino Real. Rendering by Pyatok Architecture + Urban Design.

When the City Council last discussed the affordable-housing development proposed for El Camino Real and Wilton Avenue in April, the project by Palo Alto Housing was still in the concept phase and the city's affordable-housing laws were still in flux.

Now, with the city's new "Affordable Housing Combining District" in place, the nonprofit has filed an application for the development, which is currently being processed by city planners and which is set to go undergo formal reviews in the coming months. Planning staff expect the project to reach the council by the end of the year, potentially giving the council's pro-housing bloc a rare victory in what has been another slow year for residential production.

The proposal from Palo Alto Housing would include 58 studios and three one-bedroom units, including one manager's unit, according to the project application. The development at 3705 El Camino Real will be three stories in height and will include two levels of parking -- one on the ground floor -- with a total of 50 parking spots. The units will all be designated for residents making no more than 60 percent of the area median income.

The project is the first local development by Palo Alto Housing since 2013, when city voters overturned in a referendum a zone change that would have enabled a 60-unit development for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes on a former orchard site on Maybell Avenue. For the council, it also represents an important test case in the newly established Affordable Housing Combining District, which relaxes parking requirements and other development standards for below-market-rate projects. The new zoning district also allows developers to seek waivers from Palo Alto's ground-floor retail requirement.

The nonprofit plans to seek that waiver. It is proposing to designate the ground floor uses for the residential community, with features such as a management office, a mailroom, bike storage, computer lab and building-associated service spaces, according to the application. The building would also have a podium level with a community room, gym and laundry facilities.

Rob Wilkins, director of real estate development at Palo Alto Housing, said the nonprofit is still considering other options for the ground floor, including having a nonprofit occupy the space. Palo Alto Housing had initially proposed moving its own administrative offices to the development. While Wilkins said that idea is still on the table, it is also considering having another nonprofit rent the space.

"We are still looking at the various options, but we prefer not to have retail there," Wilkins said.

The application still has to clear several hurdles before it reaches the council. Planning staff had requested that Palo Alto Housing provide more information, including an application to combine the two existing lots at 3703 and 3709 El Camino into one lot, where the new development would stand, and a historic review for the existing buildings on site.

The project is also set to be reviewed by the Architectural Review Board, with the first hearing set for Aug. 16, Wilkins said. The Planning and Transportation Commission will also consider the applicability of the new affordable-housing district.

If the council approves the project by the end of the year, it will be the second multifamily residential development to receive the green light this year. In June, the council approved a 57-unit development by Windy Hill Property Ventures for the corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road. That project, often referred to as "workforce housing," consists largely of small units, some of which are designated for those making less than 120 percent of area median income.

Despite the two projects, the council is still slated to fall well short of its goal of producing 300 housing units annually, which is roughly what's needed to meet the goals in the city's Comprehensive Plan.

So far, the project has received a mixed response, with some residents warning at prior hearings that the El Camino project would worsen traffic conditions in the Ventura neighborhood. Critics had also maintained that the relaxed parking standards in the new affordable-housing zone would result in cars parking in nearby neighborhoods. The city's planning commission was so concerned enough about the new zone that it narrowly voted in March not to approve it, but the council nevertheless adopted it in April.

Many others had argued that the project from Palo Alto Housing is exactly what's needed and that the new zone is necessary to make it possible. That is the view that appears to be shared by the council majority, which had the Wilton Court project in mind when it voted on April 9 to approve the affordable-housing zone.

Councilman Adrian Fine, an outspoken proponent for more housing, said the new zone will change some of the city's parameters "so that we can actually begin to have some affordable housing in Palo Alto."

"Our community has spoken loudly and clearly about the need for affordable housing," Fine said at the April meeting. "This overlay is aimed at 100 percent affordable housing. It doesn't get much better than that."

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2018 at 10:18 am

How can this be called affordable low income family accommodation when they are studios and one bedroom units?

How many people do they expect to live in a studio or one bedroom unit?

And dare I ask about parking?


24 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2018 at 11:29 am

JCP is a registered user.

Fine, Kniss, and Scharff will not go along with 60 percent of median income. They want housing for single tech workers making over $110,000. Afterall, they are our future, yes?

Fine tries to argue that 120% of median income is affordable housing. Wow.


10 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2018 at 11:36 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

@resident -as the article states, there will be 50 parking spaces (so underparked for 58 units). Palo Alto Housing generally allows two people per bedroom, plus one so I'm assuming that the studios would be limited to two people, the one bedrooms to three people.


15 people like this
Posted by Liz Garder
a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Prime location for alternative transit. Wonderful proposal!! Please include compact efficiencies such as plenty of covered bike lock-ups. I also suggest each studio/one bedroom be provided one small onsite easily accessed storage locker for needed and necessary seasonal and utility items. Very excited about this project. I truly hope it gets accomplished. Sorely needed here!


24 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

At 2-3 occupants per unit they realistically need at least 122-183 parking spaces, plus a proper allowance for the business tenants. It would help greatly if the project included a grocery/pharmacy instead of offices.


9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2018 at 12:43 pm

I hadn't even gotten down to the Comments section but already had the same questions in mind, from just reading the article, that 'Resident' raised. And just what is 60% of AMI currently? I think of studio apartments as being for one person. Maybe two, if they are young newlyweds, or just young cuddly partners. When my wife and I were newlyweds, and college students, we rented a studio apartment with a pull down 'Murphy' bed. It worked out okay, just okay, but we were dying to graduate, get jobs, and be able to afford at least a 1 bedroom apartment, preferably a 2 bedroom apartment. Is that what these studios will be like? Assuming two people will live in the studios, will two people earning minimum wages be able to afford the rent that will be charged. We haven't heard anything about that part of the equation.

Now on the general subject of affordable housing:

I think it's time to retire that old worn out story about the Maybell Ave project. Archive that one. A lot of people don't even remember it, and most of those who do, just don care or think it's relevant anymore.

My guess is that there are so many hurdles left to get this new proposed project approved and launched by the end of the year that the odds are against that happening.

So, I have to turn it back to, and on, CC, the ones who approved the Comprehensive Plan, and the fantasy goal set of building 300 units a year until 2030. Shame on you...for approving that. There was no indication...plans already developed/approved or ones on the drawing boards...that gave that goal a chance of being met. I hope our residents see through that charade and don't vote for candidates based on what they promise. We're one year into this fantasy and are way behind. Playing 'catch-up' from behind is a very difficult task. Let's wait for this year's crop of CC candidates to explain how they propose to do it.


9 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Seems like a very suitable project.
In my experience, a studio is for one person and a one bedroom unit is for one-two persons. Do not permit cramming of four persons in order to get kids into Palo Alto public schools. Reasonable, safe occupancy guidelines must be enforced. Abuse of taxpayers who pay high property tax is unacceptable.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:02 pm

ADU's aren't going to do it...get the job done...won't help one iota in solving our housing situation...and whatever happened to all the downtown high density development ideas that would cure our housing problems and reduce rental rates at the same time? High density, under parked apartments with micro units? I haven't heard that term, 'micro-units' used in a long time. Some things just don't catch on...especially with claustrophobic people.


59 people like this
Posted by Curious Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:25 pm

"Prime location for alternative transit"

I live in Barron Park, not far from this intersection. How is this a prime location for alternative transit (and what does that mean)? Sure, there is the 22/522 bus, which is helpful if you are going up and down El Camino and not in a hurry. It's over a mile on foot to the Cal Ave train station - do you think people will walk there? There's no supermarket or drug store in walking distance - Mollie Stones is over a mile (if you can afford it); Safeway is 2 miles.

I can't figure how people living here won't want/need cars, just to live. I live basically across the street and we need one car per adult. 50 cars spaces for maybe 100 adult residents? How is that supposed to work?


21 people like this
Posted by To Resident + Anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:33 pm

To Resident and Anonymous, above:

Small places can accommodate more people than you think. The reasons may vary - people are modest and don't mind close personal space, or want to save money.
For example, there are small studios near me.
[Portion removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:52 pm

I believe they have reserved a certain percentage of the units for adults with developmental disabilities who are able to live independently but don’t drive nor require caregivers.

It would be great to limit through traffic on Wilton especially since the popular restaurant on the corner doesn’t have enough parking so their customers park on Wilton. I suggest a one way barricade on Wilton (east of the alley) to allow neighbors to access El Camino but prevent cut through traffic down Wilton (similar to the one at Park and Chestnut).


13 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 2:03 pm

This is a fantastic project in the right location. I'm so glad that Palo Alto Housing is finally developing affordable housing locally again, after the body blow of Maybelle. THANK YOU Council and PAH!


9 people like this
Posted by Riding a Swing at Peers Park
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Dream on. A review is one thing...actualization another.

How does one define 'affordable' in an affluent city like Palo Alto?

> "Fine, Kniss, and Scharff will not go along with 60 percent of median income. They want housing for single tech workers making over $110,000. Afterall, they are our future, yes?"

Of course...to them, the 'extreme' lower end of the socio-economic scale in PA can live & commute from elsewhere. The aforementioned city leaders have no sense of reality. They are simply offering 'lip service' to perpetuate their ostensible/self-serving/self-proclaimed personas of actually caring about this critical housing scenario & those who it impacts the most (i.e. the lower-middle & working classes).

Shouldn't come as any big surprise.










23 people like this
Posted by Curious Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 2:53 pm

@Eric Rosenblum, Downtown North - I do find people often see great appeal in "special projects" in neighborhoods far from their own (Maybell was similar). What do you say to the neighbors who worry about traffic and parking from such an under-parked building? (BTW, I'm across El Camino, so I don't think I will personally be affected.) Do you think there are sites in DT North for this project?


14 people like this
Posted by jane J
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm

jane J is a registered user.

The Ventura residents will probably have to end up paying the cost for a parking permit to be able to park near their homes since the El Camino section of Baron Park, with it's low buildings is likely being eyed by developers for much higher density 3 or 4 story buildings, as is the case around California Avenue.


11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm

"What do you say to the neighbors who worry about traffic and parking from such an under-parked building?"

Most proponents of these proposals say they're NIMBYs. I say they're rightfully concerned citizens.


"Do you think there are sites in DT North for this project?"

Why not come over and look around? Don't expect others to do your homework.


11 people like this
Posted by LadyBarron
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 4:00 pm

I count at least 30 RVs parked along El Camino from Stanford to my home in BP, which house the working class. Now we have a reasonable housing proposal to replace a run-down commercial building, and everyone is up in arms. SMFH


26 people like this
Posted by Developers rule
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 5:15 pm

PA Forward president Eric Rosenblum thinks a seriously underparked building in someone else's neighborhood is 'fantastic.'
I don't doubt that the PAFs will come out in lockstep supporting it too.
As will his former colleagues at Palantir.


26 people like this
Posted by Too big, too crowded
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 5:52 pm

As usual, too tall, not enough parking, didn't retain ground floor retail. And it will add to the traffic mess we already have, the glut of people using city services that we already have, the overcrowded schools, parks and playing fields.

When does it stop? When are we officially "overcrowded"? Do we not care about the environment and exceeding a reasonable carrying capacity in terms of resource usage? Do we not care about the quality of life of current Palo Alto residents who are being abused with all of the increased population and sunlight blocking density?

Vote in the upcoming city council election for candidate who want to keep a lid on growth. Although it doesn't look like there are any real slow growth candidates these days. Maybe some will still run!


26 people like this
Posted by I'm with stupid
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 6:16 pm

> I'm so glad that Palo Alto Housing is finally developing affordable housing locally again, after the body blow of Maybelle

Maybell, not Maybelle.

The story brings up an interesting dynamic that accompanies projects from PAH. The accompanying photograph shows the small commercial structure that currently occupies the space. The visual impression is that the PAH project will replace an aging building at El Camino and Wilton.

But, the proposed development is about 3 times larger, extending from El Camino to the alley and from Wilton down mid-block to Curtner, including the Euromart. PAH's rendering shows the resident friendly view, but doesn't depict the menacing facade on El Camino that will offer no amenities to the neighborhood.

I don't think folks in the neighborhood realize how big this development will be.


27 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2018 at 6:34 pm

"I don't think folks in the neighborhood realize how big this development will be."

That is by design. The rendering shows the proposed project as a high flying bird would see it, not as humans on the ground will behold it, and it completely omits the neighborhood context. It's a common method of architectural deception which unschooled groups like planning commissions and city councils fall for every time.


6 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 11:25 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

The Santa Clara County plan for true BMR housing seems to be RVs. At least with those accommodations there must be a ratio of one parking spot per unit.


26 people like this
Posted by AP
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

Unless you can force restrictions, families will live in the studios, so they can send their kids to PAUSD.


7 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

@AP - Palo Alto Housing limits the residents of a studio to 2 people and 1 bedroom units to three people. Whether they enforce that once people live there I don't know.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Three words:

"Parking, parking, parking."

If the folks living in this nice development give up the right to park on Wilton and other nearby neighborhood streets, then I have no objection. Well, no objection in general. If the facade has corrugated metal on it like the new Mitchell Park Library and the Hohbach memorial building on Park, then, I object on architectural grounds.


16 people like this
Posted by pickpocket
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 19, 2018 at 5:27 pm

It is important to remember that these projects under Palo Alto Housing PAY NO PROPERTY TAX!

So the costs of educating the 50+ kids undoubtedly moving into this building, providing police/fire/libraries/roads/etc all fall onto us, the legitimate property owners of Palo Alto.

This is unsustainable.


10 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2018 at 8:12 pm

to @curious neighbor, who wrote "@Eric Rosenblum, Downtown North - I do find people often see great appeal in "special projects" in neighborhoods far from their own (Maybell was similar). What do you say to the neighbors who worry about traffic and parking from such an under-parked building? (BTW, I'm across El Camino, so I don't think I will personally be affected.) Do you think there are sites in DT North for this project?"

YES... there are a lot of sites for such a project. We have at least one such project already (in that there is minimal parking and high density)-- The President Hotel, which abuts my neighborhood. I personally love the President Hotel, and am glad that such a housing project exists nearby.

I think that Downtown North has other potential for this sort of project, because it is so conveniently located to caltrain, services, retail etc. The site that used to be the North Face, but which has been abandoned for a couple of years would be a perfect site for fairly dense, car-light housing.


1 person likes this
Posted by Madias
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 20, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Water ?


Like this comment
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 21, 2018 at 6:39 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Palo Alto median income is about $161K, which means people or families with an income of $98K or less would qualify to live in the development. That encompasses a great number of people who work in the area.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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