After coveting it for more than two years, Palo Alto is preparing to make an offer on a Birch Street property that city leaders hope to transform into parkland as part of a broader plan to redevelop Ventura neighborhood.
The City Council will consider on Monday night its options for purchasing a portion of the 1.65-acre property that AT&T owns at 3350 Birch St., adjacent to Boulware Park. The site includes an AT&T building, which the company is not selling, and an undeveloped 0.64-acre section near the intersection of Ash Street and Lambert Avenue AT&T had put on the market in early January.
If the city buys the property, it would be able to expand the 1.5-acre Boulware Park and add a recreational amenity to a dynamic neighborhood where parkland has been in relatively short supply. The neighborhood barely meets the city's parkland standard, which encourages having park space within half a mile of all homes. The few parks it does have are either very small (Sarah Wallis Park), relatively hard to get to or both (Boulware). Adding land to Boulware Park would help the council meet a Comprehensive Plan policy calling for neighborhood parks to be at least 2 acres in size.
The council has been discussing the possible purchase of the AT&T site since fall 2016, when officials first learned that the company is exploring a sale. Last June, when the council was discussing raising the city's hotel-tax rate to pay for infrastructure and new community amenities, the AT&T site was one of the projects that council members cited in their arguments for the higher rate. Mayor Eric Filseth, who supported raising the hotel-tax rate by 2 percent, pegged the move as a chance for the council "to invest in the community" and add new recreational amenities.
"I really want to buy the AT&T (site) next to Boulware Park, for example, and we have no chance to do that if we don't do something here," Filseth said at the June 18 hearing.
Though voters decided to raise the hotel tax rate to 15.5 percent in the November election, rather than the 16 percent that Filseth and others had lobbied for, Palo Alto has other options to pay for the site. The city collects parkland development impact fees, which will have a balance of $2.7 million after all the other scheduled park-improvement projects are accounted for, according to a new report from the Administrative Service Department.
The city also collects "parkland dedication fees" that are earmarked for development or rehabilitating community parks and the city may have up to $1.2 million available in this account.
Even so, the report notes that the purchase is far from certain. The property currently does not have a listed price and the city's offer will be made "at fair market value, to be determined with the seller," the report states.
"Considerations will be cost and availability of funding, including whether acquisitions should be designated as a priority over other parks improvements and whether this potential acquisition should be prioritized over other City parks and recreation projects," the report states.
Even so, the prospect of buying the property and expanding Boulware Park remains popular at City Hall. The Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council have often talked about the need to bring more recreational amenities to Ventura and had identified the site as the ideal opportunity. The city is also now in the midst of creating a master plan for a large section of Ventura, including the commercial campus currently anchored by Fry's Electronics.
"Acquisition of the property would allow for the expansion of Boulware Park, which could then meet standard neighborhood park acreage and potentially integrate the street right-of-way between parcels," the report states. "The property's location proximate to the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan study area also enhances potential connectivity with the Fry's site."
The property is being marketed by CBRE Group, a commercial real-estate firm that has indicated that it wishes to receive offers by late this month, according to the city.
The council will discuss the Birch property on Monday night and will likely direct staff to negotiate with CBRE about a possible purchase.