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.