The largest owner of apartments in East Palo Alto is proposing to demolish 160 rent-controlled units and to replace them with 605 apartments, some of which would rent at market-rate, owner Sand Hill Property Company announced Wednesday.
The proposal at Woodland Park Communities would not cause the eviction of current residents, a rarity among developers, the company said. Sand Hill would designate 160 apartments in the new development as rent controlled, available first to the existing tenants, and would add 445 apartments for rent at market rates.
The redevelopment would affect less than 10 percent of the 1,800-unit Woodland Park Communities, which is located west of U.S. Highway 101. Sand Hill would relocate the 160 tenants to similar residences within the same neighborhood during construction, then give them a "right to return" at their same rental rates, according to the company. (View maps of the plan provided by Sand Hill here).
Woodland Park's buildings, which include multistory apartments and single-family residences, are between 50 and more than 100 years old, putting them at "the end of their useful life," the company stated in a press release.
"They were built before the city of East Palo Alto was founded, to now-outdated building codes, and were not well maintained by the previous ownership," the press release states.
The company hasn't yet determined how tall the buildings will be, but estimates four to eight stories, depending on what they are neighboring. Buildings next to the tall University Circle complex or U.S. Highway 101 could be taller and those next to residences would be shorter, said Mike Kramer, chief investment officer of Woodland Park Communities.
"We currently have no plans beyond these," Kramer said.
The development would also increase parking to approximately 620 spaces (up from the current 155 off-street slots), seek to improve nearby transit options and improve pedestrian and bicycle access, the company said. One space has tentatively been designated as "flex/retail."
"Our proposal has been informed by years of discussions with our residents, our neighbors and the community. We will continue our engagement and outreach and will partner with East Palo Alto to create a community informed plan all of us can be proud of," Kramer said in the statement.
The new redevelopment, Euclid Improvements, will be located on two properties behind the University Circle business park and Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley. The largest parcel is at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and West Bayshore Road, bordered by O'Connor Street and Euclid Avenue. An adjacent, smaller development would be at the corner of O'Keefe Street and Euclid. (View a list of the impacted addresses at the end of this story.)
The company plans to submit the project application to the city this summer. If approved, construction could begin in 2021. The first apartments would be completed by 2023 at the earliest, Kramer said.
The company sent a letter to Woodland's residents last week informing them of the proposed development. Representatives held meetings with those residents on Monday and with the broader Woodland Park community on Tuesday, with plans for additional community meetings during the next several months.
Sand Hill's chief housing officer Candice Gonzalez, who was hired in July after serving 10 years as CEO of the affordable-housing developer Palo Alto Housing, reaffirmed the company's commitment to its current tenants in a statement: "Constructing new rent-controlled homes is relatively unprecedented in the industry, but it is vital that we protect current tenants and preserve affordability. The core principles that inform our plans are no displacement, having a community-informed plan, creating better parking and mobility, and constructing safer, healthier buildings."
The announcement may help alleviate some concerns among residents and city leaders, who have feared for years that the large chunk of affordable housing would be converted to high-end apartments or condominiums.
Woodland Park has had a rocky history since being acquired in 2007 by Page Mill Properties, which fueled concerns and distrust. The properties were engulfed in lawsuits over the city's rent-stabilization ordinance and steep rent increases by Page Mill. Investors sued, including over a $100 million failed investment in the company by the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Chicago-based Equity Residential purchased Woodland Park in 2011, but the company's ownership was controversial. Tenants filed a class-action lawsuit in September 2014 alleging Equity Residential charged unlawful and exorbitant late fees.
In August, then-East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica, a resident of Woodland Park, recognized Sand Hill's efforts to improve the properties and tenants' experiences in his State of the City address. "(Woodland Park Communities) has acted differently, and I have seen that they have tried to restore the trust between management and the tenants, they have addressed more directly issues of parking, of maintenance, of security, and they have also done additional activities for the children and for the families," he said.
In October, the company apologized to tenants for a gaffe by its management company after residents who tried to pay their rent were refused if they could not show identification that matched their lease agreement. A company attorney told the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Board that Sand Hill was trying to protect residents' privacy.
The City Council in December also recognized Woodland Park Communities with a proclamation for "its effort to improve relations and services to tenant families."
Addresses that would fall under the Euclid Improvements development:
• 2021 Euclid Ave.
• 2043 Euclid Ave.
• 2040 Euclid Ave.
• 2025 Euclid Ave.
• 2012 Euclid Ave.
• 2042 Euclid Ave.
• 2031 Euclid Ave.
• 2032 Euclid Ave.
• 2044 Euclid Ave.
• 2041 Euclid Ave.
• 2036 Euclid Ave.
• 2054 Euclid Ave.
• 501 O'Connor St.
• 2001 Manhattan Ave.
• 2033 Manhattan Ave.