News

Developer hopes to bring 70 new apartments to University Avenue

Plans submitted to city show four-story building with office space on the ground floor; 20% of apartments would be designated as affordable

The proposed development at 660 University Ave. would include 70 apartments. Rendering by Korth Sunsery Hagey Architects

Emboldened by a positive response from the Palo Alto City Council, a developer has filed a formal application to construct a four-story building with 70 apartments and ground-floor office space on University Avenue. Of the apartments, 20% would be rented out as affordable housing.

Smith Development has filed a formal application for 660 University Ave., a project that calls for consolidating three lots near the intersection of University and Middlefield Road and demolishing two single-story office buildings, including the present location of Palo Alto Dental. The dental practice plans to relocate to another location within the city.

The council got its first look at the development during a "pre-screening" meeting in October, at which point most council members generally supported Smith’s concept but suggested that the developer provide more apartments for low-income individuals.

The project is advancing under the council's "planned home" zoning process, which allows builders to exceed the city’s development standards in exchange for providing housing. The process also gives the council greater discretion to accept or reject proposals.

In discussing the project on Oct. 25, most council members generally lauded the Smith plan for bringing housing to downtown, an area where the city has been trying to encourage more residential development through various zoning reforms. By contrast, the council has been generally dismissive of planned-home projects proposed in single-family neighborhoods.

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Council member Alison Cormack said during the council's October discussion that the project is "in the right place."

"It fits in with the other four-story multifamily buildings that are nearby and it does represent some change," Cormack said.

While most of her colleagues agreed that the location is suitable for housing, residents of the adjacent condominium community, The Hamilton, have argued that the project is too dense for the area. Chris Ream, president of The Hamilton Homeowners Association, argued that the project will make traffic and parking congestion in the area much worse.

The project proposed by Smith would include two levels of below-grade parking and 9,115 square feet of office space. Vehicles would enter from Middlefield Road, according to plans that Smith submitted last month.

In a nod to the council's feedback, Smith agreed to revise the income categories for the below-market-rate units in the development. Under the new plans, 14 of the 70 apartments would be designated as affordable housing. Of those, six would be designated for the "moderate" income category, four for the "low" income category and four for the "very low" income category.

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That's a shift from the prior plan, which designated four apartments for the "workforce housing" category, which applies to residents making up to 120% of area median income.

The project would also include a roof terrace for residents and an outdoor deck near an existing oak tree.

The new development "responds to the context of the neighboring single-family use lot through setbacks along the common property line," Smith wrote in a letter accompanying the application. The project, the letter states, "is designed to be a high-quality addition to Palo Alto."

The project will now have to go through Palo Alto's typical approval process, which will involve hearings in front of the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council.

Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Developer hopes to bring 70 new apartments to University Avenue

Plans submitted to city show four-story building with office space on the ground floor; 20% of apartments would be designated as affordable

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jan 3, 2022, 2:40 pm

Emboldened by a positive response from the Palo Alto City Council, a developer has filed a formal application to construct a four-story building with 70 apartments and ground-floor office space on University Avenue. Of the apartments, 20% would be rented out as affordable housing.

Smith Development has filed a formal application for 660 University Ave., a project that calls for consolidating three lots near the intersection of University and Middlefield Road and demolishing two single-story office buildings, including the present location of Palo Alto Dental. The dental practice plans to relocate to another location within the city.

The council got its first look at the development during a "pre-screening" meeting in October, at which point most council members generally supported Smith’s concept but suggested that the developer provide more apartments for low-income individuals.

The project is advancing under the council's "planned home" zoning process, which allows builders to exceed the city’s development standards in exchange for providing housing. The process also gives the council greater discretion to accept or reject proposals.

In discussing the project on Oct. 25, most council members generally lauded the Smith plan for bringing housing to downtown, an area where the city has been trying to encourage more residential development through various zoning reforms. By contrast, the council has been generally dismissive of planned-home projects proposed in single-family neighborhoods.

Council member Alison Cormack said during the council's October discussion that the project is "in the right place."

"It fits in with the other four-story multifamily buildings that are nearby and it does represent some change," Cormack said.

While most of her colleagues agreed that the location is suitable for housing, residents of the adjacent condominium community, The Hamilton, have argued that the project is too dense for the area. Chris Ream, president of The Hamilton Homeowners Association, argued that the project will make traffic and parking congestion in the area much worse.

The project proposed by Smith would include two levels of below-grade parking and 9,115 square feet of office space. Vehicles would enter from Middlefield Road, according to plans that Smith submitted last month.

In a nod to the council's feedback, Smith agreed to revise the income categories for the below-market-rate units in the development. Under the new plans, 14 of the 70 apartments would be designated as affordable housing. Of those, six would be designated for the "moderate" income category, four for the "low" income category and four for the "very low" income category.

That's a shift from the prior plan, which designated four apartments for the "workforce housing" category, which applies to residents making up to 120% of area median income.

The project would also include a roof terrace for residents and an outdoor deck near an existing oak tree.

The new development "responds to the context of the neighboring single-family use lot through setbacks along the common property line," Smith wrote in a letter accompanying the application. The project, the letter states, "is designed to be a high-quality addition to Palo Alto."

The project will now have to go through Palo Alto's typical approval process, which will involve hearings in front of the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council.

Comments

Amy
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:16 am
Amy , Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:16 am

I wish new buildings could be more in keeping with the style of the original Birge Clark vibe of Palo Alto. The old Presidents is getting a facelift but at least keeping its character. I would love to see this development mirror that architecture. Our town is getting filled up with predictable, mundane buildings lacking any nod to the history of our town.


NanaDi
Registered user
Midtown
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:46 am
NanaDi, Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:46 am

Sad to learn that the historical Palo Alto Dental Group building would be a victim of this project. It would seem to me that this building, which (I think) was built in the 1930s, or earlier, should qualify for some sort of historical protection. It seems that preservation of the character of Palo Alto has become victim to the idea of "progress". I hope the Decision Makers will give A LOT of thought before approving this proposal.


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2022 at 12:28 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Just what we don't need, another large, ugly, cement faced building welcoming developers and "growthers" to the city. We get more jobs that we don't need via the office space, we get more pollution and carbon emissions from the cement and supplies to build and maintain this monstrosity, we get less water per person (in a state that will continue to lose water due to global warming- despite the current rains), plus we get the ugly factor forever.

It is time for all good citizens to rally behind the initiative that is seeking support for the 2022 ballot that would return local zoning decisions that have been usurped by out of touch, growth promoting Sacramento lawmakers to the local city councils. Look for petitions to sign around town to get this initiative on the ballot so we can once again stop these developments at the city level!


Dee
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Jan 4, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Dee, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Where are all these apartment dwellers (70+) going to park their two cars?


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:26 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:26 pm

My concern is the size of the units. City Council and the Planning Commission *never* ask the developers the size of the units, and over the past few years, the *only* developments proposed contained units averaging 400 square feet -- smaller than the size of a typical college dorm room.

For those who would like to see exactly how it looks to house a "family" in a 400 square foot box, the windows of the new development on the northeast corner of El Camino and Oregon Expressway have been fully visible as that compilation of shoe boxes nears completion. Through the windows you can see 20 or so tiny cube-sized homes with a "kitchenette" on one side of the wall and a small table on the other, which has to be moved out of the way to pull down a murphy bed from the wall. Once the bed is down, there will be almost no space to move. Towards the entry you can see doors to a small lavatory (possibly w/o a sink) and hopefully a closet. This would not likely be a sanitary or comfortable place for families over 3 to live -- it's barely bigger than a trailer parked on El Camino.

For these cubicles, the developer is charging approximately $3500/month! Website:

Web Link

Worst: The "below market" units are **374 square feet** and listed for $3400/month. These 15 x 25 foot "homes" are called "Junior one bedrooms." $3400/month!

Note to Palo Alto elected and appointed leadership: Reducing the size of a home is NOT a legally, morally, or logistically acceptable way to provide "affordable housing." And $12.40 a square foot a month ($150/sq ft a year!) is more than 10 times the average price of housing in the area -- laughably non-affordable.

If we taxed our largest, most profitable employers, whose commuting employees created our traffic and parking problems, Palo Alto could afford to fund actually livable housing near jobs, taking cars off the street and calming traffic & parking. What a misfire.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:28 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:28 pm

Correction to above (for some reason could not edit):

The units in Alta Locale actually are listed for $4500-$4900/month. It is only the "affordable" shoeboxes that are listed for as low as $3500/month!

Scroll down for the "luxury" $5000/month, 600 square foot (!) apartments:

Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:42 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:42 pm

Thanks, Robecca. I call that complex AltaLocale Voyeur because you can see into and through them from so many lanes of traffic stopped at the lights on Page Mill, Oregon and El Camino.

Scrolling through the listings, I only see a price differential of $150-$200 for the same unit marketed at below market and regular. That's absurd.

This proposed new development is 80% market rate PLUS offices plus a garage entry on Middlefield near University where the lanes change for what's through traffic. Evidently the "planners" assume there are no traffic backups at Middlefield lights or any traffic accidents on Middlefield.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 2:27 pm
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 2:27 pm

I have seen hotel rooms bigger than these studio apartments.


Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:43 pm
Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 8:43 pm

70 units in a space zoned for 10? Ridiculous!
The proposal violates setbacks and height limits significantly. City Council should not agree to that. This is a gateway location for downtown Palo Alto; and setbacks are important for safety and an open, welcoming feel. We want sidewalks to be comfortable for everyone, including families with strollers and elderly people. Lytton Gardens is right across the street, with a large elderly population.
Rebecca Eisenberg is right to raise concerns about the size of the units. 400 sq feet is not an apartment - it's a dorm room or a hotel room.
We do need housing, but this proposal is ludicrous and should not be approved.


Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:00 pm
Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 10:00 pm

This location is in the AH flood zone. The proposal involves a two level underground parking garage with an elevator. Is that allowed in the flood zone?!?

From the City webiste: "if the proposed building site is in a flood-prone area, all new construction and substantial improvements shall meet all of the floodplain management requirements of the NFIP such as proper anchoring and elevation or floodproofing of structures to or above the BFE."


Ryan
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:03 pm
Ryan, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:03 pm

Anyone who believes more housing will lower rents has not been to a city with dense housing.


Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Jan 5, 2022 at 9:48 am
Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 9:48 am

The picture for this project is misleading and dishonest. It shows a spacious intersection with no traffic, wide crosswalks and no traffic lights. In reality, the University/Middlefield intersection has narrower streets, traffic lights, and constant traffic backups. It's absurd to add a two level garage, offices and 70 apartments to this already crowded intersection. Shame on the developer for presenting inaccurate drawings.


Lynne Henderson
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jan 5, 2022 at 12:15 pm
Lynne Henderson, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 12:15 pm

Having lived in Palo Alto for about 45 years and knowing that area well (all my dentist's offices are still on those properties), all I can say is that the drawings of the projected building are ugly--concurring with the first post--and misrepresent traffic at University and Middlefield--the second post. I have no vote, but another generic, uninviting, structure that will be unaffordable (and inaccessible) for many doesn't seem like the solution to a very real problem, no matter how many sf an "apartment" has. Agree totally that Alta Vocale is ugly and overpriced, as are many of these new apartments and condos.
So surely


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