A developer who was preparing to build 75 apartments as part of a mixed-use project near the California Avenue Caltrain station in Palo Alto earlier this year has dropped the proposal and is now looking to construct an office complex at the site.
Smith Development, which owns numerous properties in the Mayfield and Ventura neighborhoods near the Caltrain station, had proposed in January a development that would occupy three of its parcels at 123 Sherman Ave., 150 Grant Ave. and 2501 Park Blvd. and that would include 75 apartments and 35,996 square feet of office space. Because the properties are zoned for commercial use, the developer requested a rezoning of the site to "planned community," which would allow it to request concessions to development standards in exchange for public benefits — namely, housing.
The zone change would also, however, require Smith to undergo an extensive plan review process that includes a prescreening hearing in front of the City Council and formal reviews by both the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council. In its application, the developer noted that the site's zoning already allows Smith to build up to 70,858 square feet of commercial space. It had elected at that time "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 accompanying the application.
Now, however, that plan appears to be dead in the water. Last month, Smith Development submitted a new application that complies with underlying zoning and, as such, will not need to go through the "planned home" process, which functions like the "planned community" process but which is used exclusively for housing projects. Smith's new project is a three-story building that is 37 feet tall and includes offices on the top two floors and retail on the ground floor, along Sherman Avenue. The building will have 52,661 square feet of commercial space and a two-level underground garage, according to the project application.
Because the project falls well within the density limits of the CC2 (community commercial subdistrict) zone near California Avenue and complies with the city's 37-foot height limit for the commercial zone, the development will only need to be approved by the Architectural Review Board and planning staff before it gets constructed.
"Smith Development looks forward to completing a high-quality project which will serve our community for years to come," Boyd and Lund Smith wrote in a June 15 letter to Planning Director Jonathan Lait.
The Smith project was one of several developments that was seeking to add housing to the centrally located area near the California Avenue Caltrain station through the city's newly established "planned home" zoning process, a relatively new tool that allows developers to pitch projects that exceed local development standards in exchange for housing. The most recent of these is a 49-condominium proposal that Roger Fields has applied for at 280 and 300 Lambert Ave.
While the council has yet to review Fields' plan, members signaled tentative support in January for another planned-home project close to the area: a 113-apartment proposal from Acclaim Companies for a three-parcel site at 2951 El Camino Real.
Most of the other applicants have not been as successful. In February, the council criticized a proposal by Jeff Farrar to build 290 apartments at 3997 Fabian Way as being too tall and dense. The 62-foot-tall building had designated 29 apartments for individuals in the "very low" income level. And in April, the council flatly rejected a proposal by Cato Investments to build a three-story apartment building with 24 apartments at 2239 and 2241 Wellesley Ave. in the College Terrace neighborhood. Even though the council didn't take any formal votes during the project's prescreening hearing, members agreed on April 12 that the use of planned-home zoning will be prohibited in single-family neighborhoods and largely restricted to commercial and high-density residential areas.
Vice Mayor Pat Burt also noted at that time that density limits on and around California Avenue strongly encourage developers to move ahead with office projects, which are far more lucrative, rather than residential ones. He suggested adjusting these limits to make housing more attractive.
"I don't see any circumstances that we'll see residential in the California Avenue area under this formula," Burt said.