As Palo Alto continues to reconsider the future of the Ventura neighborhood, which most city leaders see as ripe for change, a developer has come forward with a plan to build a five-story condominium complex in the planning area.
Roger Fields has proposed a 49-condominium proposal at 280 and 300 Lambert Ave., a property within the 60-acre area that the city is evaluating as part of the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan. He is the fourth property owner in the plan area to step forward with a housing project in recent months. The Sobrato Organization, which owns the property at 340 Portage Ave. that formerly housed Fry's Electronics, has proposed an 85-residence townhome development at a nearby site at 200 Portage. Smith Development, which also owns numerous properties in the Ventura area, has proposed a project with 75 housing units and 35,996 square feet of commercial space at 150 Grant Ave., 123 Sherman Ave. and 2501 Park Blvd.
The boldest plan to date is a 113-apartment project proposed by Acclaim Companies for 2951 El Camino Real. In an informal hearing in January, the City Council indicated that it would be willing to support the Acclaim project and encouraged the developer to file a formal application.
Much like the Smith and Acclaim projects, the Lambert project is relying on the "planned housing zone," a new zoning mechanism that allows residential developers to exceed development standards such as height and density limits. As proposed, the project would exceed both the city's 50-foot height limit and the typical density restrictions that would normally apply at the site's "service commercial" zone. The zoning typically allows residential floor-area-ratio (FAR) of 0.60; the project is requesting a residential FAR of 2.07.
The new housing complex would consist of two major elements. The front portion would consist of 10 townhouse-style condos. It would be three stories high, with a height of 35 feet. The remaining 39 condominiums would be in a complex at the rear of the property, which would be 55-feet high. The project would offer 20% of the residences at below market rate, according to the plan, though the application did not specify what income levels these residences would target.
In a letter accompanying the application, the Jeff Galbraith, principal of Hayes Group Architects, states that the additional 5 feet of building height "allows for the construction of an additional floor of residential units which makes a significant difference in the financial viability of the project, specifically the ability of the project to offset the cost burden of the 20% affordable requirement."
In making the pitch for "planned home zoning," Galbraith notes that under existing zoning, the site would be limited to a maximum of 18 residential units, though would "most likely result in 12 or so units due to practical realities."
"Application of PHZ (planned housing zone) regulations would allow for roughly a four-fold increase in unit count as illustrated in the attached plans," the letter states. "The proposed residential use is compatible with the surroundings as there are parcels designated R-1 and RM-30 in the immediate vicinity, and Lambert street marks the transition from the more commercial area of the North Ventura neighborhood to the more residential South Ventura neighborhood."
The "planned housing zone" gives the council full discretion on whether to approve or deny the project. Fields' first test will come during the council's "pre-screening" session for the development proposal, which is expected to occur sometime shortly after the council returns from its summer recess.
The council also plans to resume this fall its discussion over the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, which aims to come up with a new land use vision for the 60-acre area.