News

Developer looks to build 75 housing units, office building near California Avenue Caltrain station

City Council to consider Smith Development's proposal for 123 Sherman Ave. on March 22

The proposed mixed-use project from Smith Development, viewed here from the corner of Park Boulevard and Sherman Avenue, would include 35,996 square feet of office space. Courtesy Korth Sunseri Hagey Architects.

After years of struggling to promote housing development, Palo Alto is now awash with proposals — nearly all of them targeting the rapidly changing area near the California Avenue business district.

The City Council has already approved two residential developments — a "workforce housing" project with 57 apartments at 2755 El Camino Real, on the busy corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road — and 59 apartments known as Wilton Court for low-income families and adults with disabilities. And over the past few months, council members gave favorable reviews to plans to build 119 housing units at 2951 El Camino Real through the new "planned housing" zone and to Santa Clara County's teacher-housing project proposed for 231 Grant Ave., which consists of 110 apartments.

Now, the council is preparing to review another proposal. Smith Development, which owns numerous properties around California Avenue and in the nearby Ventura neighborhood, is hoping to merge three properties, demolish the small office buildings currently on site and construct a mixed-use development with 75 housing units and 35,996 square feet of office space near the California Avenue Caltrain station. The properties are at 150 Grant Ave., 123 Sherman Ave. and 2501 Park Blvd.

Much like the 119-unit project proposed by Acclaim Companies for 2951 El Camino, the proposal from Smith would require a zone change to "planned community," a designation that allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for community benefits. While the council unofficially abolished PC-zone projects in 2013, council members revived the zoning designation under a new name — the "planned housing zone" — and specified that they would only consider projects that offer housing as a public benefit.

According to project plans, the Smith proposal would create two buildings around an existing office building at 2555 Park Blvd. The new office project would occupy the corner of Park and Sherman, with a five-story housing development immediately behind it, stretching toward Grant Avenue. Because the entire site is zoned for commercial use, a zone change of some sort would be needed before any housing gets built there.

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The council is tentatively scheduled to hold a "prescreening" for the proposal at its March 22 meeting, which is designed to provide applicants with early feedback so that they can determine whether to file a formal application.

As part of the proposal, Smith Development is requesting a zone change to allow housing and the city's permission to exceed Palo Alto's typical development standards for new buildings. The residential portion of the development would be 54 feet in height, exceeding the city's 50-foot height limit. And while the office component of the project would be well within the area's density limits, the residential portion would exceed the density threshold.

The development also includes an 86,617-square-foot underground garage with 154 spaces, which is 30% fewer than the city's regulations would normally allow. Developers plan to introduce a transportation-demand-management plan to encourage alternatives to solo commuting, according to plans.

Smith Development noted in its application that under existing zoning, it can build up to 70,858 square feet of commercial office space.

"Yet, Smith Development has elected not to pursue an exclusively commercial redevelopment so they can provide housing units for the community," Boyd and Lund Smith wrote in a letter to the city. "With great proximity to the California Avenue Caltrain Station, Smith Development feels that this location is well suited for a mixed-use project that allows Smith Development to exercise some of its non-residential development rights while also providing Palo Alto with 75 units of new housing."

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If approved, the project would further accelerate the transformation of the area around Sherman Avenue and Park Boulevard. Palo Alto has recently completed the construction of a six-level parking garage at 350 Sherman Ave. and the city is planning to launch construction of a new public safety building at 250 Sherman Ave. in the coming months. The county, meanwhile, is planning to launch construction of its teacher-housing development at 230 Grant Ave. in August 2022.

The proposed mixed-use project from Smith Development would include a building with 75 housing units stretching between Sherman and Grant avenues. Courtesy Korth Sunseri Hagey Architects.

The city also is concurrently moving ahead with a coordinated area plan for a 60-acre portion of Ventura just southeast of Smith Development's proposed project site. A working group of stakeholders, which includes Lund Smith, has been working on the plan for nearly two years and has prioritized housing — particularly, affordable housing — as a critical component of the plan.

The city's Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to hold its next hearing on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan this Wednesday, March 10.

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Developer looks to build 75 housing units, office building near California Avenue Caltrain station

City Council to consider Smith Development's proposal for 123 Sherman Ave. on March 22

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Mar 5, 2021, 12:44 pm
Updated: Tue, Mar 9, 2021, 9:09 am

After years of struggling to promote housing development, Palo Alto is now awash with proposals — nearly all of them targeting the rapidly changing area near the California Avenue business district.

The City Council has already approved two residential developments — a "workforce housing" project with 57 apartments at 2755 El Camino Real, on the busy corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road — and 59 apartments known as Wilton Court for low-income families and adults with disabilities. And over the past few months, council members gave favorable reviews to plans to build 119 housing units at 2951 El Camino Real through the new "planned housing" zone and to Santa Clara County's teacher-housing project proposed for 231 Grant Ave., which consists of 110 apartments.

Now, the council is preparing to review another proposal. Smith Development, which owns numerous properties around California Avenue and in the nearby Ventura neighborhood, is hoping to merge three properties, demolish the small office buildings currently on site and construct a mixed-use development with 75 housing units and 35,996 square feet of office space near the California Avenue Caltrain station. The properties are at 150 Grant Ave., 123 Sherman Ave. and 2501 Park Blvd.

Much like the 119-unit project proposed by Acclaim Companies for 2951 El Camino, the proposal from Smith would require a zone change to "planned community," a designation that allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for community benefits. While the council unofficially abolished PC-zone projects in 2013, council members revived the zoning designation under a new name — the "planned housing zone" — and specified that they would only consider projects that offer housing as a public benefit.

According to project plans, the Smith proposal would create two buildings around an existing office building at 2555 Park Blvd. The new office project would occupy the corner of Park and Sherman, with a five-story housing development immediately behind it, stretching toward Grant Avenue. Because the entire site is zoned for commercial use, a zone change of some sort would be needed before any housing gets built there.

The council is tentatively scheduled to hold a "prescreening" for the proposal at its March 22 meeting, which is designed to provide applicants with early feedback so that they can determine whether to file a formal application.

As part of the proposal, Smith Development is requesting a zone change to allow housing and the city's permission to exceed Palo Alto's typical development standards for new buildings. The residential portion of the development would be 54 feet in height, exceeding the city's 50-foot height limit. And while the office component of the project would be well within the area's density limits, the residential portion would exceed the density threshold.

The development also includes an 86,617-square-foot underground garage with 154 spaces, which is 30% fewer than the city's regulations would normally allow. Developers plan to introduce a transportation-demand-management plan to encourage alternatives to solo commuting, according to plans.

Smith Development noted in its application that under existing zoning, it can build up to 70,858 square feet of commercial office space.

"Yet, Smith Development has elected not to pursue an exclusively commercial redevelopment so they can provide housing units for the community," Boyd and Lund Smith wrote in a letter to the city. "With great proximity to the California Avenue Caltrain Station, Smith Development feels that this location is well suited for a mixed-use project that allows Smith Development to exercise some of its non-residential development rights while also providing Palo Alto with 75 units of new housing."

If approved, the project would further accelerate the transformation of the area around Sherman Avenue and Park Boulevard. Palo Alto has recently completed the construction of a six-level parking garage at 350 Sherman Ave. and the city is planning to launch construction of a new public safety building at 250 Sherman Ave. in the coming months. The county, meanwhile, is planning to launch construction of its teacher-housing development at 230 Grant Ave. in August 2022.

The city also is concurrently moving ahead with a coordinated area plan for a 60-acre portion of Ventura just southeast of Smith Development's proposed project site. A working group of stakeholders, which includes Lund Smith, has been working on the plan for nearly two years and has prioritized housing — particularly, affordable housing — as a critical component of the plan.

The city's Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to hold its next hearing on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan this Wednesday, March 10.

Comments

Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Mar 5, 2021 at 5:43 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 5:43 pm

It would be interesting to know the amount of office space in the existing buildings, so we could get a better idea of how much change is being proposed.

That said, at least this project is close to a jobs/housing balance. 75 units at an average of 2.3 workers per unit is about 173 workers. 35996 square feet at 150 to 250 (depending on layout) square feet per worker is 144 to 240 workers.

The TDM plan will be crucial, given that there's certainly a shortage of parking.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:45 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 6:45 pm

No more offices, especially under-parked ones. Just say no and make it all housing.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2021 at 11:20 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 5, 2021 at 11:20 pm

Since 2014 Palo Alto’s met 92% of its RHNA share of market rate housing and needs no more. We also don’t need anymore offices that only cause more demand for more housing. It only takes up land, raising its value.

We do badly need a lot more below market rate housing. The tiny bit of affordable housing set aside in market rate projects is pitiful. The way to get a lot of affordable housing built is for the state and/or feds to directly fund non-profit affordable housing developers. It’s that simple.

If Gov. Newsom and Scott Wiener were serious about affordable housing they would fund it - but don’t kill. You’ll know when they are serious if and when they do.


LaVonne Miranda
Registered user
another community
on Mar 6, 2021 at 6:24 am
LaVonne Miranda, another community
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 6:24 am

This new development sounds like a good idea in concept.

Hopefully the city will erect a large sound wall between the tracks and apartments to eliminate the sounds of passing trains.

Also Caltrains will need to restrain from using their whistles when approaching the California Avene station so as not to disturb those who are sleeping.

Lastly, will the early AM gravel and freight trains be re-routed? They too are very noisy.

Quality of life in Palo Alto has reached new depths and city administrators must strive to reduce all of the distractions and ambient noise.


Bart Anderson
Registered user
Mayfield
on Mar 6, 2021 at 9:03 am
Bart Anderson, Mayfield
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 9:03 am

I live in the neighborhood. More housing and development is probably inevitable here.
I think we could handle more people. What is a problem is the increased traffic - and the increased noise, stress and accidents. Anything we can do to encourage people to walk or cycle will make the area more liveable.
Reserving California Avenue for restaurants, walking and cycling has made the area much more pleasant.


Jamie Beckett
Registered user
Mayfield
on Mar 6, 2021 at 12:36 pm
Jamie Beckett, Mayfield
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 12:36 pm

I live in this neighborhood. This article reads like it was taken directly from a Smith Company press release. Among other things, it fails to mention that the developer plans to vastly exceed the city's height and density limits with a structure that would tower over everything else in the vicinity and would block the sunlight for hundreds of nearby residents. The developer envisions apartments only slightly larger than SRO units, but expects to collect market rates for them. Sure we want housing, but who is this housing supposed to be for? Surely not anyone who really plans to make their home in Palo Alto. The zoning changes sought by this developer are a cynical ploy to cram in more unneeded offices under the pretense of providing housing.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2021 at 1:05 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 1:05 pm

Doesn't the plan for the building have to be approved by the city? There is what the developer wants and what is appropriate for that location.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2021 at 1:33 pm
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 1:33 pm

Has anyone totaled up all of the new workers and new residents all of the approved and proposed projects would bring to their area? Has anyone figured out how the small streets and limited access in and out of the area will handle so much traffic? In particular, has anyone thought about the increased danger to bicyclists and pedestrians that such traffic will bring? And, lastly, does anyone doubt that the developers plan to under-park both commercial and residential buildings and employ the discredited ruse of a TDM? No TDM in the City has ever been looked at once it is signed, much less enforced. I agree that the article reads like a press release for Smith.


Paige
Registered user
another community
on Mar 6, 2021 at 6:21 pm
Paige, another community
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 6:21 pm

I am a member of the public. Housing is not a "public benefit", unless I can use it.

A public park is a public benefit. I can use that. A public library is a public benefit. I can use that. A public road is a public benefit. I can use that. Sales tax is a public benefit, so long as it is spent on things I use or benefit from. Not only can I use these things, but public decision makers control them, and I can vote for those decision makers.

"Private" housing is never a public benefit. Let's be clear. "Diversity" might be a public benefit, but that is a second order equation. Does this project promise economic, racial, religious, or cultural diversity in the housing? Or are we just housing more tech workers?

I don't disagree with encouraging more housing as a matter of policy. I disagree with institutional dysfunction and euphemism. I remember when the old PC zones were abused with dinkly little public spaces called "parks" and boring little public chachkis called "public art" in return for granting huge density bonuses. And I remember when "transit" mean Cal train, until it meant a bus route on ECR, and then it meant anywhere, it was just a meaningless word like "all natural."

How is this different or better?

The easiest way to balance between office and housing is to charge the full market price for affordable housing impact fee to proposed office development. Joe Simitian calls it "full mitigation." Currently this is over $200sf of which Palo Alto actually charges about ~25$/sf.

Charge the full amount. If it kills the office project then you know that it was subsidized all along.

Stop subsidizing office and the housing market will quickly take off.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2021 at 9:17 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2021 at 9:17 pm

Google recently closed its campuses to outsiders citing concerns about protests shortly after getting final approval for their big development projects.

POOF went all the wonderful promised "public benefits" of heir "park-like villages with winding streams, community playgrounds and whatever else sounded good when pitching the project.




Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 9, 2021 at 11:26 am
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 11:26 am

Working on this plan for two years or two generations?


Resident near the site
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 9, 2021 at 11:56 am
Resident near the site, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 11:56 am

This plan is completely unethical and not suitable for this community for 3 reasons. The plan is to build a massive 5-story building towering right up against a big apartment complex that's only 2 and 3 story high. This plan completely ignores the fact that hundreds of families live next to the site. Besides this unethical planning, the residential units they are proposing is micro-apartments that is more suitable for single-person occupancy in a large, densely-populated city such as San Francisco and NYC. This type of apartments will only attract transient type of tenants who will not grow their roots in the community. Our community has many families who hope to grow kids here and be a part of the community for a long time. My third concern is the traffic on Park Blvd. It was already bad and hard to cross the street in pre-pandemic time. Now with the 2 approved new buildings right across from this site; one is teachers' apartments, and other is public safely building on Sharman ave., the city will have to put traffic lights on Park Blvd. It will make driving into Page Mill road from Park a nightmare.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2021 at 12:44 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 12:44 pm

Here's a map with bike routes (which are different from the route you might take in a car) around Palo Alto Web Link . You can see there are easy bike routes to Cal Ave from almost anywhere in Palo Alto--or regionally, for that matter. Almost no one in Palo Alto lives far from Cal Ave. I live near Piazza's, about as far from Cal Ave as you can be and still be in Palo Alto. It takes me 17 minutes to get to Cal Ave restaurants, stores and farmers market from my home by bike. I ride at a very leisurely pace--I don't even break a sweat. It's a nice ride on Park Boulevard. For folks who live in north PA, and the east side of PA, there is a separated bike/pedestrian railroad underpass that gets you directly to the Cal Ave train station and businesses. My husband and I often enjoy a bike ride to Cal Ave for dinners out. The ride perks us up so we enjoy dinner dates more, and we can have guilt-free dessert because we will burn some calories on the way home. (Please remember to light up with head lights and rear reflective lights if you ride after dark as we do. Be safe. Be seen. Also, if you are going to shop, it's a good idea to have pannier bags or a trailer to bring home your purchased goods.


CalAveLocal
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 9, 2021 at 2:18 pm
CalAveLocal, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Hands down we need more affordable housing in Palo Alto. This proposal is not what we need.
I think developers are being intentionally dishonest, asking for too many code waivers and while calling this a planned community project it appears that community would not benefit from it at all; and residents of Palo Alto Central condo community will be extremely negatively effected due to a towering building that will block sunlight for dozens of condos and inability to get in and out of the parking garage, especially during commute hours. A project like that would perhaps work at a former Fry's lot where it will not negatively effect existing community. Also, something tells me that these units will only be affordable to young tech crowd.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 9, 2021 at 3:15 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 3:15 pm

We need more truly affordable housing, not more high-density MARKET RATE units like those they're trying to shove into College Terrace. When the YIMBY's start insisting that 50% or more of the units they push for aren't just more expensive units that can be converted to condos, I MIGHT believe they're not just developer pawns doing the bidding of their rich developer and high tech backers.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2021 at 5:05 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Another good bike map for riding around Palo Alto, including the Cal Ave and Park Blvd areas, can be found here Web Link


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 7:04 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Mar 9, 2021 at 7:04 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2021 at 9:36 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 10, 2021 at 9:36 am

This is quite probably not the right time to make some of these big decisions about office space and rabbit hutch high rises for workers to live in nearby.

Working from home, either part time or full time, is going to be the way for the future office workers in Silicon Valley. Many offices are planning their space for when office workers return with the idea that most will only return to the office part time and hybrid designs are being configured instead of the individual space pre-pandemic.


Old PA Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2021 at 8:19 pm
Old PA Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 8:19 pm

Still don't understand why we let developers create market rate apartments while letting them bypass building codes. Old Palo Alto just put in a parking permit program (now we have to pay to park in front of our house) because there was so much overflow parking from California Ave. Now we might let them build a huge building without enough parking spots? What is wrong with this picture?


Local
Registered user
Stanford
on Mar 15, 2021 at 12:20 am
Local, Stanford
Registered user
on Mar 15, 2021 at 12:20 am

We need more office developments like this. Palo Alto has tons of really cheap housing - so much that many houses are empty as nobody want it. Office, on the other hard, we are desperately short off. If we could build more offices we might even attract some of those shiny new hi-tech firms that other places get.

So bring it on - a new development of offices with one of two houses thrown in.


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