East Palo Alto's proposed commercial mega-development at 2020 Bay Road could fund hundreds of new affordable-housing units, transportation and storm-drain improvements, according to a recent analysis by the city's community development director.
The 1.3 million-square-foot project could bring in $41.2 million in one-time impact fees and an estimated $10 million in annual fees, Community Development Director Patrick Heisinger told the Planning Commission on June 24. If approved, the project would be the largest in the city's history and the linchpin for commercial development in the city's Ravenswood/4 Corners area.
The one-time impact fees could pay out an estimated $14.3 million for affordable housing, which would lead to 400 new residences. That sizable increase would be nearly double that of two affordable-housing projects the city has thus far approved: 128 new units at Light Tree Apartments located at 1805 E. Bayshore Road and 120 affordable units at 965 Weeks St. on city-owned land.
In addition to adding funds for housing, the project impact fees would include an estimated $1.4 million for parks and trails, $2.6 million for public facilities, $9.5 million for transportation, $5 million for storm-drain improvements and $7.5 million for water connections. In contrast, schools would see a lower impact fee of $800,000 due to the project's intended land use, since office buildings are less likely to have impacts on schools compared to housing, Heisinger said.
The city would also see $3.25 million in annual fees from Measure HH, the commercial-space tax on large developments, and $6.6 million each year from property taxes, Heisinger said.
The project is located in part on the old Romic Environmental Technologies site, an area that is heavily contaminated by more than 40 years of hazardous materials. The site has been monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control since 2001. The land has a restricted-deed covenant because of contamination that will not allow for housing, day care facilities or schools.
Bounded by Bay Road, Tara Street and the Baylands, the development would have five eight-story office buildings on 17.2 acres and would include 3,500 square feet of ground-floor retail. The office buildings would be 130 feet high, according to the proposal by New York-based developer Three Cities Research Inc. Two parking garages would accommodate 4,538 spaces. An estimated 5,000 workers would be employed at the site, a member of the development team said at a May 30 community meeting.
The project will be reduced slightly in size after feedback from the May meeting and others held in March and early May, representatives for the developer said at the June planning commission meeting. Residents said they want waterfront access to the Baylands and unobstructed views of the bay and wetlands. To accomplish those goals, the developer's representatives said they will scale back the proposal from its original 1.4 million square feet and would add a 40-foot setback along Bay Road. The modified square footage and setback would allow for "viewing corridors" next to Bay Road that would overlook the city's new open-space park at Cooley Landing.
The developer has also agreed to build and maintain a 1.89-acre waterfront park, which would have amenities such as spotting scopes for bird watching, paths and landscaping. It would also add public parking at the park and accessible paths from Tara Street and Bay Road. As additional community benefits, Three Cities has also committed to first-source hiring for local residents at its office development in keeping with city policy. It would also contribute or add public art and is considering a community space.
Residents have voiced concerns regarding the large project's impacts on traffic and housing. In the May 30 community meeting, the developer's representative told residents that "probably" 90% of employees won't live in the city, according to meeting notes, although they did not offer details regarding that analysis.
The city appeared serious regarding the project's traffic impacts. Heisinger told the developer they should have an "ambitious" transportation demand management plan and consider creating a transit-management association with neighboring commercial property owners so they won't conflict with each other's management plans as the area grows. The plan should also have elements such as community shuttles that would be accessible to the public, including penalty clauses for non-compliance with the management plan and an annual review, city staff noted.
An environmental impact report (EIR), which has been commissioned by the city, is estimated to be completed by the end of July or early August. Staff plans to ask for a 60-day public comment period for the report, since the project is significant. The planning commission and the city council will also weigh in on the EIR through study sessions. Assistant City Manager Sean Charpentier said a council study session on the project is scheduled for July 30.