News

Facing concerns from College Terrace, city looks to reassert commitment to single-family housing zones

Council may ban use of new tool in R-1 neighborhoods

Cato Investments has proposed a three-story building with 24 apartments at 2239 and 2241 Wellesley St. Rendering courtesy Lowney Architecture.

Since Palo Alto launched the "planned home zone" last year to encourage the construction of more housing, it has seen steady increases in development applications and in neighborhood concerns about the new projects.

By some measures, the program has been a success. Since the new zone was created in February 2020, the city has reviewed three "planned home" applications that collectively propose 593 housing units. In the coming months, staff is expecting to bring additional applications for the council's consideration that, between them, would propose close to 500 more, according to a new report from the city. For a city that has produced only a fraction of its affordable-housing obligations and that is nowhere close to meeting its own goals for housing production, the recent surge of interest from residential developers is, in itself, a welcome development.

But the new zoning designation — which allows residential developers to exceed zoning regulations on height, density and parking and other development standards — has also prompted uncomfortable conversations about what kind of housing should be allowed and where it should go. In the College Terrace neighborhood, where developer Cato Investors had proposed a three-story, 24-apartment building on Wellesley Street, the battle has been particularly fierce.

Map by Paul Llewellyn.

While Jefferey Colin, principal at Cato, wrote in the application that rezoning two lots at 2239 and 2241 Wellesley St. is "consistent with and will assist in meeting the City's housing goals," dozens of College Terrace neighbors have indicated in recent weeks that they strongly disagree. On March 10, the College Terrace Residents Association submitted a letter of opposition, which argues that the project does not belong at the proposed location.

"Our intentions are clear: We welcome new residents with open arms and seek housing projects better suited to the space and the neighborhood," the letter states. "The CTRA strongly advocates for more affordable housing but views this proposal as ill‐suited to both the space and the community."

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Rhetoric heated up after a housing advocate from the group Peninsula for Everyone put up flyers in the neighborhood that analogized residents who oppose the Cato project to former President Donald Trump and the gun-toting McCloskey couple from St. Louis, Missouri. One flyer depicts the McCloskeys with their guns drawn and a caption coming out of Patricia McCloskey's mouth that reads, "They want to abolish the suburbs altogether, by ending single-family zoning."

On Monday night, the council plans to step into the debate by narrowing the intentionally wide parameters of the planned home zone in a way that could effectively kill the Wellesley project. The biggest question that the council will consider is: Should the zoning designation be allowed in single-family residential (R-1) zones?

The homes at 2239 and 2241 Wellesley St. are on the proposed site of development for a 24-apartment project in Palo Alto, seen here on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Most council members — including Mayor Tom DuBois, Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone — have already indicated in interviews and during public comments that they believe the answer is no. The April 12 hearing will give them a chance to officially revise the policy and exclude R-1 zones from consideration for major new housing projects.

Planning staff has recommended instituting the restrictions. According to the new report, city planners advised Cato that its application "was not consistent with the intent of this program," even though the law clearly allows the developer to submit an application for a "prescreening" by the council.

"Going forward, staff recommends PHZ applications be considered for all commercial, industrial zoning, and multifamily districts," the report states.

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Planning staff is also recommending that the city continue to give developers flexibility when it comes to a building's height and density. While the city has a 50-foot height limit for new buildings, many developers are interested in buildings that exceed 60 feet, the report states. In some areas of the city, additional height may be especially impactful, particularly when these projects are far from sensitive land uses or single-family neighborhoods, the report states.

"Often the additional height not only increases the number of units that can be built it also increases the value of the project making it more financially feasible and thus more likely to be built," the report states.

Another key question that the city will consider is: Should they allow planned-home projects to include an office component? Under the framework that the council approved last year for the zoning designation, some office use is allowed, though any project that adds jobs is required to provide enough housing to offset the residential demand that these jobs would generate.

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

Several developers have followed this direction. Acclaim Companies received generally positive reviews from the council in January for its proposal on El Camino and Olive Avenue, which includes 119 residences, 5,000 square feet of office and 1,000 square feet of retail. Meanwhile, developer Lund Smith is proposing a planned-home project at 123 Sherman Ave. that includes 75 residences an 35,996 square feet of office space at a commercial site.

Some council members, including DuBois and Kou, have suggested in the past that the new zone should primarily apply to projects that consist almost entirely of housing — particularly affordable housing. Last June, when the council was considering the city's first planned-home proposal, which included 190 apartments and 55,153 square feet of office space in Stanford Research Park, DuBois said he is "not supportive of additional office space."

That approach, however, has not had the desired effect. Following the hearings, Sand Hill Property Company withdrew its application for a mixed-use project at 3300 El Camino Real. Instead of offering 190 apartments, it is now moving ahead with a zone-compliant project that consists of 52,872 square feet of office space and no housing at all.

Sand Hill Properties is moving ahead with a commercial project at 3300 El Camino Real after the City Council gave a mixed review last year to its proposal for 190 apartments and offices. Rendering courtesy Form4 Architecture.

Given the tension between the developers' wishes for more offices and the council's housing goals, city planners have proposed several possible approaches, including limiting office use to one-third of the project's floor area and revising the council's criteria for the jobs-housing ratio for planned-home projects. The new report notes that some property owners are interested in increasing office space either because the underlying zone permits offices or to help make housing more economically feasible.

"To encourage a property owner to build housing with inclusionary units where office is allowed by right, the City's housing incentives must be significant enough to support that financial decision," the report states. "For this reason, many PHZ applications on commercial property are likely to include an office component."

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Facing concerns from College Terrace, city looks to reassert commitment to single-family housing zones

Council may ban use of new tool in R-1 neighborhoods

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 7, 2021, 3:51 pm

Since Palo Alto launched the "planned home zone" last year to encourage the construction of more housing, it has seen steady increases in development applications and in neighborhood concerns about the new projects.

By some measures, the program has been a success. Since the new zone was created in February 2020, the city has reviewed three "planned home" applications that collectively propose 593 housing units. In the coming months, staff is expecting to bring additional applications for the council's consideration that, between them, would propose close to 500 more, according to a new report from the city. For a city that has produced only a fraction of its affordable-housing obligations and that is nowhere close to meeting its own goals for housing production, the recent surge of interest from residential developers is, in itself, a welcome development.

But the new zoning designation — which allows residential developers to exceed zoning regulations on height, density and parking and other development standards — has also prompted uncomfortable conversations about what kind of housing should be allowed and where it should go. In the College Terrace neighborhood, where developer Cato Investors had proposed a three-story, 24-apartment building on Wellesley Street, the battle has been particularly fierce.

While Jefferey Colin, principal at Cato, wrote in the application that rezoning two lots at 2239 and 2241 Wellesley St. is "consistent with and will assist in meeting the City's housing goals," dozens of College Terrace neighbors have indicated in recent weeks that they strongly disagree. On March 10, the College Terrace Residents Association submitted a letter of opposition, which argues that the project does not belong at the proposed location.

"Our intentions are clear: We welcome new residents with open arms and seek housing projects better suited to the space and the neighborhood," the letter states. "The CTRA strongly advocates for more affordable housing but views this proposal as ill‐suited to both the space and the community."

Rhetoric heated up after a housing advocate from the group Peninsula for Everyone put up flyers in the neighborhood that analogized residents who oppose the Cato project to former President Donald Trump and the gun-toting McCloskey couple from St. Louis, Missouri. One flyer depicts the McCloskeys with their guns drawn and a caption coming out of Patricia McCloskey's mouth that reads, "They want to abolish the suburbs altogether, by ending single-family zoning."

On Monday night, the council plans to step into the debate by narrowing the intentionally wide parameters of the planned home zone in a way that could effectively kill the Wellesley project. The biggest question that the council will consider is: Should the zoning designation be allowed in single-family residential (R-1) zones?

Most council members — including Mayor Tom DuBois, Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone — have already indicated in interviews and during public comments that they believe the answer is no. The April 12 hearing will give them a chance to officially revise the policy and exclude R-1 zones from consideration for major new housing projects.

Planning staff has recommended instituting the restrictions. According to the new report, city planners advised Cato that its application "was not consistent with the intent of this program," even though the law clearly allows the developer to submit an application for a "prescreening" by the council.

"Going forward, staff recommends PHZ applications be considered for all commercial, industrial zoning, and multifamily districts," the report states.

Planning staff is also recommending that the city continue to give developers flexibility when it comes to a building's height and density. While the city has a 50-foot height limit for new buildings, many developers are interested in buildings that exceed 60 feet, the report states. In some areas of the city, additional height may be especially impactful, particularly when these projects are far from sensitive land uses or single-family neighborhoods, the report states.

"Often the additional height not only increases the number of units that can be built it also increases the value of the project making it more financially feasible and thus more likely to be built," the report states.

Another key question that the city will consider is: Should they allow planned-home projects to include an office component? Under the framework that the council approved last year for the zoning designation, some office use is allowed, though any project that adds jobs is required to provide enough housing to offset the residential demand that these jobs would generate.

Several developers have followed this direction. Acclaim Companies received generally positive reviews from the council in January for its proposal on El Camino and Olive Avenue, which includes 119 residences, 5,000 square feet of office and 1,000 square feet of retail. Meanwhile, developer Lund Smith is proposing a planned-home project at 123 Sherman Ave. that includes 75 residences an 35,996 square feet of office space at a commercial site.

Some council members, including DuBois and Kou, have suggested in the past that the new zone should primarily apply to projects that consist almost entirely of housing — particularly affordable housing. Last June, when the council was considering the city's first planned-home proposal, which included 190 apartments and 55,153 square feet of office space in Stanford Research Park, DuBois said he is "not supportive of additional office space."

That approach, however, has not had the desired effect. Following the hearings, Sand Hill Property Company withdrew its application for a mixed-use project at 3300 El Camino Real. Instead of offering 190 apartments, it is now moving ahead with a zone-compliant project that consists of 52,872 square feet of office space and no housing at all.

Given the tension between the developers' wishes for more offices and the council's housing goals, city planners have proposed several possible approaches, including limiting office use to one-third of the project's floor area and revising the council's criteria for the jobs-housing ratio for planned-home projects. The new report notes that some property owners are interested in increasing office space either because the underlying zone permits offices or to help make housing more economically feasible.

"To encourage a property owner to build housing with inclusionary units where office is allowed by right, the City's housing incentives must be significant enough to support that financial decision," the report states. "For this reason, many PHZ applications on commercial property are likely to include an office component."

Comments

mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2021 at 5:19 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 5:19 pm

Gennady Sheyner writes, "the council plans to step into the debate by narrowing the intentionally wide parameters of the planned home zone"

My understanding at the time was that council's intention was for the new "PHZ" to replace the old "PC" designation to broaden and encourage building housing were it was not previously permitted.








ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2021 at 6:36 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 6:36 pm

So why was PC zoning tabled in the past? The public was outraged by the 27 University Avenue (Arriaga Proposal), 395 Page Mill Road project and the Maybell development which was stopped by referendum. I remember well the council chambers when the Arriaga project was pitched. The chambers was bursting with public attendees. You could hear a pin drop. Fast forward to the council of 2020, under the direction of Mayor Fine, where the zoning was resurrected under the new moniker PHZ. Enter CATO LLC who has never met with the community to explain their dense apartment complex plan. This project is not affordable housing. It would require the city to scrap R1 zoning for PHZ. Now all of the city of Palo Alto would be targeted under PHZ should the council approve the zoning change for this Trojan Horse. Thankfully we have a council who will listen to the recently appointed housing element group and to residents both renters and home owners. We need strong standards. Yes we need affordable housing. The planning staff perpetuates the myth that housing can only be built with office. That is not true. BTW Palo Alto is awash with vacant office spaces.The council needs to avoid spot zoning and focus on the grand picture to include strong and defined zoning standards. I hope they all remember the community's reaction to earlier PCs and the annulled proposals rejected in the past.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2021 at 7:58 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 7:58 pm

"The planning staff perpetuates the myth that housing can only be built with office. That is not true."

Not true and it goes against the intent of the voters/ taxpayers. Several years ago more than 3,000 signed the ballot initiative petition to cap office space. Many who signed the petition wanted a total ban, not a cap.

Plus common sense says when residents are already over-run /out-numbered by commuters 4:1 that you stop digging and adding more workers which will only push up housing prices for all.


Carol
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2021 at 8:16 pm
Carol , Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 8:16 pm

Thank you Lydia Kuo, Tom Dubois, Pat Burt and Greer Stone to keep College Terrace as a residential neighborhood, safe for all families and students!


sunnypa
Registered user
Stanford
on Apr 8, 2021 at 8:10 am
sunnypa, Stanford
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 8:10 am

Wouldn’t this proposal on Wellesley still keep College Terrace as a residential neighborhood?? What are the College Terrace residents afraid of?? Lowering their home values? Opening up their neighborhood to lower income residents so as not to tarnish their wealthy cookie cutter suburb with a 3-story building?

This is crazy. We’re in 2021 after all. About time we open up our neighborhoods to allow for all those who contribute to our Palo Alto lifestyle to actually afford to live here. I say let the building be built. College Terrace is just steps away from El Camino with a gas station on the corner. What is the big deal about a residential building in its streets? This screams elitism to me.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2021 at 9:37 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 9:37 am

A resident of SU is accusing other neighborhoods of all type discriminatory activity. WOW - SU totally controls the building of housing on it's properties. SU picks and chooses where single family housing is built and where other housing for students and families live. Do not sit on SU property and lecture other neighborhoods. The single family housing is carved out, protected, and is a good example of elitism..

If SU would so choose they would section off a piece of property for the people who live in RV's that work at SU - maybe back by the Maintenance section. that would satisfy the rant on discriminatory housing.

One really well done housing section is the SU West apartments which are off Sand Hill Road. Those are for lease. SU is controlled environment. If you live in a controlled environment then do not lecture other neighborhoods that want a controlled environment.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 8, 2021 at 10:22 am
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 10:22 am

I hope several thoughtful people will write letters to the editor of the Weekly with well-informed and differing views of what this all means. I would really like to see some good discussion of what the changes really mean and
the pros and cons of what is being proposed.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2021 at 2:59 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 2:59 pm

@Carol. R u suggesting that multi family housing is unsafe? The only unsafe neighbor are attitudes like yours, Klaus “residential” parking lifts fall into this category too. Q: Can someone give a definition difference between a “developer” and a developer? Hot button knee jerk agitative words, thrown out like the difference between a conservationist and a environmentalist. Where is our housing Julia Butterfly? Oh yeah they are living in tents under HWY84 and banks of local creeks. I believe Alta housing falls into one of the above “developer” definitions. This is no housing test. However. Creating poor people’s hamlets in ugly, unhealthy sections along the Bayshore, ECR and San Antonio is not a answer — only a quik fix solution to a problem created 50 years ago with P13, and a massive ongoing crisis up into the next Century. Trust and hope in a Neighborhood’s “character and charm” kills society, community preservation & responsibilities in a larger context. In other words: it’s a phrase used to psychological assassinate progress using metaphoric racist firing squads. Or rather killing the elephant in the room. Denial of a self inflicted (city of affordable PA housing crisis) wound does not make the boo boo all better! My teenaged son (which the city is behaving immaturely like)would call this draconian reaction to — the anti housing people movement — as hiding behind a bunch of, “Karens”!


Seer
Registered user
Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 8, 2021 at 3:45 pm
Seer, Greendell/Walnut Grove
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 3:45 pm

I remember when the brave neighbors who defeated Senior housing at Briones park so that they could put in a couple of $5M homes instead, affordable by like F10 and above levels at Google (moreover, buyer beware, I went through those homes and they didn't use quality stuff in the details -- lighting, light, counter ...).

Now, half a mile walk from the train station, across the street from an existing apartment building, we simply cannot have another apartment building.

I also think it is really wise (NOT!) that DuBois and Kou are getting involved in the economics of housing proposals, they don't want office space mixed with housing. This mixing makes for more vibrant neighborhoods, but anyhow, I don't think politics should micro-manage the economics of the firms whom might actually build more housing in Palo Alto.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 8, 2021 at 4:20 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 4:20 pm

It makes it more "vibrant" sticking offices in residential neighborhoods?? Sure, if you like "vibrant" battles over limited parking and being over-run by even more commuters and all the delivery trucks, janitors etc. servicing those offices at non-peak -- aka EARLY and LATE -- hours!


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2021 at 11:14 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 11:14 pm

We don't need any more office space until there is parity between jobs and housing. None at all. And we do not need to destroy the lives of current residents of Palo Alto by cramming in dense development that will further overcrowd this area.

It is OK to say that an environment is full, we are at maximum capacity, we don't need to keep polluting the air and water and ground with more people and more waste. The only housing that should be built is low income housing and we know that developers are not interested in that because they want to make money.

The city needs to look for government money/grants to build affordable housing and stop taking any meetings with developers who either want to build office space that will add jobs we don't need or market rate housing that will overcrowd our community.

We also need to fight Sacramento where the representatives seem to be in the pockets of developers and trying to force cities to approve 6 to 8 homes on a lot. (See bills 8 and 9 this year).

Crazy overdevelopment that is destroying the planet needs to come to an end and our city can fight it.


Greenacres
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2021 at 1:36 am
Greenacres, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 1:36 am

Neighbors didn’t defeat Sf housing or put up $5M homes-a for-profit developer enabled by the City did. Affordable housing could’ve been built @Maybell if City & alleged housing advocates hadn’t been pigheaded&vindictive. If City had allowed neighbors a working group AS THEY ASKED, they would’ve worked for affordable housing, but without the 60% FOR-PROFIT 3-story stovepipe houses (~as many as now).

Same neighbors 20 years prior in almost identical development battle bulldozing Terman School for apts, got a working group & rejected a for-profit development, saved school & got affordable housing built. Neighbors asked again at Maybell in City mtgs. If they hadn’t been vilified&ignored, all citizens could have come together as 20 years prior to make affordable housing happen @Maybell.
Internal neighborhood survey prior to referendum found favored land use was preserve historic orchard. Same survey found neighbors’ preferred DEVELOPED use was affordable housing. If City had treated neighbors in S PA the same as in N PA at Alma, Maybell would be affordable housing today.

CITY COULD HAVE RETAINED ORCHARD (FIRST RIGHT OF REFUSAL) & ALLOWED A WORKING GROUP TO GET AFFORDABLE HOUSING THERE AS AT TERMAN. The false narrative about Maybell is politicized disinformation for sake of rich developers/virtue signaling. The CITY decided to sell it to a for-profit developer rather than keep it for park or affordable housing. Neighbors asked for City to at least not sell it for 12-18 months to put together a plan.

If referendum had gone differently at Maybell, BV Mobile Home Park could never have been saved, because big for-profit developer in partnership w/owner would’ve demolished it, scattered residents to the winds like @President Hotel & put in dense mostly luxury apts. But just after referendum result, big developer pulled out & no one took their place because of referendum result (no densifying). Protecting zoning was an essential aspect of SAVING affordable housing at BV.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
2 hours ago
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
2 hours ago

In the SJM Sunday Real Estate section is a full page add for PA's newest neighborhood - Orchard Park. The homes are starting in the mid $4M. So high cost housing won out over Affordable Housing. That is the Maybell location - a subject of a lot of discussion. A lot of talk. but the end results are in now.

We still have not seen any finalization on the Fry's site - waiting for that shoe to drop. A lot of wrangling in process in the general area of Park.


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