News

New 'planned home' zone could be put to the test with 119-unit project

City Council will consider granting exception for proposal to exceed zoning laws on height, density

A proposed development from Acclaim Companies, would bring 119 housing units, offices and retail to a site at 2951 El Camino Real. Rendering courtesy of city of Palo Alto.

With Palo Alto's plan to add housing in the Ventura neighborhood mired in uncertainty, a developer has put forward a plan that would add 119 new residences, as well as office space and retail, on an El Camino Real site.

The applicant, Menlo Park-based Acclaim Companies, is also requesting that the city allow it to exceed local height and density rules to make the project possible.

The development targets a site at 2951 El Camino Real, an L-shaped property between Olive and Pepper avenues. Under the proposed plan, the terraced building would run from three stories on the east side of the property, which is adjacent to single-family homes, to five stories on the El Camino Real side, which currently includes a Verizon store and Omniscience, a software company. It would also include an underground garage with 177 spaces.

Project plans show that the new development would include 119 housing units, as well as 1,000 square feet of retail and 5,000 square feet of office space. At its highest point, the development would be about 65 feet tall, well exceeding the city's 50-foot-high limit. On the portion of the site that is zoned for single-family homes, Acclaim is seeking an exemption to go up to 37 feet in height. The city's zoning code currently limits heights in R-1 zones to 30 feet. The residential density of the project would be 108 dwelling units per acre, more than twice as many as the zoning code normally allows.

According to the application, 24 of the units would be offered at below market rate.

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"The new mixed-use development will provide 119 new residences while retaining the existing small office and retail uses on site," the application states. "An underground parking garage preserves the street level for active uses and landscaping."

The proposal is still in its conceptual phase. The City Council tentatively scheduled to hold a pre-screening hearing next month to provide early feedback and help the developer determine whether to proceed with a formal application. If the project moves ahead, it could be the second development proposed under the new "planned home" zone, which offers developers concessions on height and density limits, as well as other development standards, in exchange for the provision of affordable housing.

The city is also evaluating a proposal from Sand Hill Property Company for a mixed-use project down the street at 3300 El Camino Real, just south of Hansen Way, that would include a two-story office building and a five-story apartment complex with 187 units, of which 20% would be offered at below market rate.

While neither proposal is anywhere close to approval, both reflect a renewed willingness by developers to build in Palo Alto after a prolonged housing drought. Even though the council established a goal in early 2018 of approving 300 housing units per year, the city hasn't come close to meeting the target. So far, only two developments have won approval: a 57-unit development on El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, which is geared toward local workforce, and Wilton Court, an affordable-housing project at 3705 El Camino Real.

The new proposals also suggest that the city's recent work to update its zoning code to encourage housing is starting to bear fruit. The council will soon consider a proposal to build a four-story building with 102 housing units at 788 San Antonio Road, a project that will utilize the "housing overlay" zone that the council approved in 2018 for its main commercial areas (the designation was later expanded to also include San Antonio). The Planning and Transportation Commission voted last month to support the San Antonio proposal, which includes 16 units of below-market-rate housing.

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With the new plan, Acclaim is looking to build in an area that the city has already designated as ripe for change. For the past year, a group of Ventura residents, property owners and other community stakeholders have been working on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a document that explores a new vision for a 60-acre portion of the neighborhood that includes the former site of Fry's Electronics on Portage Avenue.

Housing is expected to be a major component in the new plan, though the panel and staff have yet to reach a consensus on how much housing should be included, what it should look like and how much should be designated as affordable.

The new proposal also reflects the growing power of El Camino to draw new developments, particularly in the Ventura neighborhood and around California Avenue. The city had already approved two projects just north of Page Mill Road, the workforce-housing proposal at the former VTA lot at 2755 El Camino Real and a mixed-use project at the former Olive Garden in the 2500 block of El Camino. Both projects are now in the midst of construction.

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New 'planned home' zone could be put to the test with 119-unit project

City Council will consider granting exception for proposal to exceed zoning laws on height, density

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 17, 2020, 11:27 am
Updated: Mon, Sep 21, 2020, 8:59 am

With Palo Alto's plan to add housing in the Ventura neighborhood mired in uncertainty, a developer has put forward a plan that would add 119 new residences, as well as office space and retail, on an El Camino Real site.

The applicant, Menlo Park-based Acclaim Companies, is also requesting that the city allow it to exceed local height and density rules to make the project possible.

The development targets a site at 2951 El Camino Real, an L-shaped property between Olive and Pepper avenues. Under the proposed plan, the terraced building would run from three stories on the east side of the property, which is adjacent to single-family homes, to five stories on the El Camino Real side, which currently includes a Verizon store and Omniscience, a software company. It would also include an underground garage with 177 spaces.

Project plans show that the new development would include 119 housing units, as well as 1,000 square feet of retail and 5,000 square feet of office space. At its highest point, the development would be about 65 feet tall, well exceeding the city's 50-foot-high limit. On the portion of the site that is zoned for single-family homes, Acclaim is seeking an exemption to go up to 37 feet in height. The city's zoning code currently limits heights in R-1 zones to 30 feet. The residential density of the project would be 108 dwelling units per acre, more than twice as many as the zoning code normally allows.

According to the application, 24 of the units would be offered at below market rate.

"The new mixed-use development will provide 119 new residences while retaining the existing small office and retail uses on site," the application states. "An underground parking garage preserves the street level for active uses and landscaping."

The proposal is still in its conceptual phase. The City Council tentatively scheduled to hold a pre-screening hearing next month to provide early feedback and help the developer determine whether to proceed with a formal application. If the project moves ahead, it could be the second development proposed under the new "planned home" zone, which offers developers concessions on height and density limits, as well as other development standards, in exchange for the provision of affordable housing.

The city is also evaluating a proposal from Sand Hill Property Company for a mixed-use project down the street at 3300 El Camino Real, just south of Hansen Way, that would include a two-story office building and a five-story apartment complex with 187 units, of which 20% would be offered at below market rate.

While neither proposal is anywhere close to approval, both reflect a renewed willingness by developers to build in Palo Alto after a prolonged housing drought. Even though the council established a goal in early 2018 of approving 300 housing units per year, the city hasn't come close to meeting the target. So far, only two developments have won approval: a 57-unit development on El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, which is geared toward local workforce, and Wilton Court, an affordable-housing project at 3705 El Camino Real.

The new proposals also suggest that the city's recent work to update its zoning code to encourage housing is starting to bear fruit. The council will soon consider a proposal to build a four-story building with 102 housing units at 788 San Antonio Road, a project that will utilize the "housing overlay" zone that the council approved in 2018 for its main commercial areas (the designation was later expanded to also include San Antonio). The Planning and Transportation Commission voted last month to support the San Antonio proposal, which includes 16 units of below-market-rate housing.

With the new plan, Acclaim is looking to build in an area that the city has already designated as ripe for change. For the past year, a group of Ventura residents, property owners and other community stakeholders have been working on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a document that explores a new vision for a 60-acre portion of the neighborhood that includes the former site of Fry's Electronics on Portage Avenue.

Housing is expected to be a major component in the new plan, though the panel and staff have yet to reach a consensus on how much housing should be included, what it should look like and how much should be designated as affordable.

The new proposal also reflects the growing power of El Camino to draw new developments, particularly in the Ventura neighborhood and around California Avenue. The city had already approved two projects just north of Page Mill Road, the workforce-housing proposal at the former VTA lot at 2755 El Camino Real and a mixed-use project at the former Olive Garden in the 2500 block of El Camino. Both projects are now in the midst of construction.

Comments

Amy
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2020 at 11:40 pm
Amy , Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 11:40 pm

I am wondering if more office space is a good idea in our transitioning world of work from home. Even post Covid I wonder if there will be as high a demand for office space. Right now in downtown Palo Alto it’s incredible how many offices are for rent.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 18, 2020 at 2:56 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2020 at 2:56 pm

There is a strong push on council to waive the retail requirement for retail properties outside the core shopping areas (or what is let of it) on University and Cal Avenues. Proposing 1,000 sq ft of retail is a subterfuge to get approval and then convert that space to office, for a total of 6,000 sq ft of office not 5,000 sq ft.

Also, if a building of this height containing offices is approved, it will set a standard for future mixed use developments that may contain only a token amount of housing but which the city will be hard pressed to deny if they set this precedent.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Sep 21, 2020 at 10:44 am
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 10:44 am

City Council will nitpick this to death. Vote out Kou.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2020 at 1:14 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 1:14 pm

Vote for a progressive slate Palo Alto council, school board and propositions. that will get the job done. Vote yes on Prop 15. 11th hour conceptional plans are out of whack with our housing climate and health crisis. Kou, Tanaka must go! Vote in Lee, Stone, Eisenberg!


Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 21, 2020 at 2:25 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Kudos to Kou, and keep her!

I like her definition of affordable housing, and it's not that contrived formula for getting the VTA site project approved. The Work Force they were talking about was for primarily tech workers making $150K and up per year. And the term, BMR, is a sham, a farce, and the high end of that is touching close to market rate. It's thrown out as bait in developers' proposals but it doesn't serve the needs of people on the low end of the economic/ income ladder. If we will ever make it possible for our gardeners, house cleaners, caregivers, et al, to live in our community where they serve us, then we can rightfully say we were successful in getting affordable housing for all income levels, in our town. Until then, ignore any candidate for CC who says they have the answer.

I'm not totally naive. I know this would have to be publicly funded, i.e, with tax dollars from all sources available, including our property taxes. Developers have sharpened their pencils and they have a bottom line profit in mind...to meet. Their business plans/models don't include altruistic deeds like building affordable housing at low profit margins without concessions on many codes/ordinances. I would like to hear one candidate, a brave one (but with probably a short political career), step forward and offer public funding as a solution.


Becky Sanders
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 21, 2020 at 3:44 pm
Becky Sanders, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Hold the phone! The applicant only appears to own two of the five parcels for which it's applying for the upzoning. That's a new one. Wow, plus some of the parcels are zoned R-1 single family. Sure, the 470 Olive Property is in violation of its zoning since it's obvious some kind of business has been operating out of there. The violation has been discussed in council meetings but the City has failed to enforce the zoning on that property. The city staff's lack of will to enforce the law of the city, including upholding laws governing developer failures at Edgewood and College Terrace, laws our Councils put in place for our protection, show which way the wind blows for them. The developers own City Hall. They dictate staff reports on their projects and they tell staff which laws to enforce. It's that egregious, people. It's that bad. This City Council election is nothing short of crucial. Do you want a government of the people or a government of developers?


Rose
Registered user
Mayfield
on Sep 21, 2020 at 4:50 pm
Rose, Mayfield
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2020 at 4:50 pm

This proposal is only about 20% below market rate housing. That doesn't help enough.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 22, 2020 at 9:13 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 22, 2020 at 9:13 am

Kou is in the Real Estate business. Part of getting accreditation in that business you have to understand all of the elements of land use, including available transportation links, existing infrastructure - good or bad, sewage hook-ups, and ability of the city to provide all of the essential elements for new housing.

If you are looking at an area of the city which has not had any new development in recent years then there are many known and unknown problems with aging infrastructure elements. On my street the city sewage people have been out to a number of homes which have collapsing sewer systems and hook-ups. That is due to tree roots, soil type which expands and shrinks, underground rivers which are not observable at street level. The amount of bay fill changes the dynamics of any area for building. What was a good idea 50 years ago has now been yanked and twisted.

We need a good assessment of that type of infrastructure upgrades are required to support the housing. That is a city cost over the whole of the city. Plunking a house on a piece of property addresses one issue but of notoriety - housing - but we still need to address all of the elements that support the housing. Right now that is a big ticket issue.


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