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Affordable housing project pitched for former Mike's Bikes site

Charities Housing proposes 129 apartments for low-income residents at 3001 El Camino Real

The proposed development at 3001 El Camino Real in Palo Alto would include 129 apartments for low-income residents. Rendering by David Baker Architects.

Palo Alto's effort to encourage more affordable housing received a welcome boost Monday, when a developer proposed constructing 129 below-market-rate apartments on a Ventura site that was formerly occupied by Mike's Bikes.

Charities Housing, a nonprofit developer based in San Jose, filed an application on Monday for a five-story development that would consolidate three parcels at 3001-3017 El Camino Real, near Olive Avenue. The building will consist of 20 studios, 40 one-bedroom apartments, 35 two-bedroom apartments and 34 three-bedroom apartments, according to the application. It will also have 1,500 square feet of amenity space for residents on the ground floor.

The housing complex will provide apartments for residents who make between 30% of area median income and 50% of area median income, according to the application. While the exact affordability mix has yet to be determined, Charities Housing said the average affordability level is expected to be at 40% of area median income.

The community space would include a community room with a kitchen that could be used for social gatherings, a pantry to store and stage food that would be provided in partnership with organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank, a laundry room and offices for on-site social service providers.

Because the project provides affordable housing, it is entitled to obtain numerous concessions under the state density bonus law. The building would occupy 74% of the project site, well above the 50% threshold that the zoning code would typically allow. And it would not meet the city's requirement of providing 150 square feet of usable open space per dwelling.

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Furthermore, because the project is within half a mile of a major transit stop, it qualifies for unlimited density under state law.

The application comes at a time when the city has been struggling to make inroads in meeting its own — as well as regional — targets for affordable housing. While Santa Clara County has spearheaded the development of below-market-rate projects at 231 Grant Ave., which targets teachers, and 525 E. Charleston Road, the city's only major 100% affordable-housing development in recent years has been Wilton Court, a 59-apartment complex at 3705 El Camino Real that the council approved in 2019 and that is now being constructed.

The city's struggles on affordable housing were highlighted in a recent Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Report, which compared Palo Alto's progress on housing development to that of Mountain View. The grand jury recommended that Palo Alto speed up its planning process, identify additional funding mechanisms to support affordable housing and explore the creation of "area plans," vision documents that target particular areas of the cities and typically involve significant zoning changes and redevelopments that align with the city's goals.

The shortage for residents in the "low income" and "very low income" categories have been particularly acute in Palo Alto. The grand jury noted that the city approved just 80 residences for these income categories between 2015 and 2019, which represents just 7% of its obligations under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation process.

Project plans for 3001 El Camino Real show an S-shaped building with courtyards in the front and the back of the development. The building's height will not exceed 60 feet, according to the application, and it will provide a "pedestrian-scale environment in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood," the application states.

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It will also provide 106 parking spaces in its garage through use of parking lifts as well a 142 bicycle parking spaces, according to the application.

This isn't the first time that the city is considering adding residences to the former Mike's Bike's site, which today consists of two unoccupied commercial buildings and a parking lot. In 2017, The Sobrato Organization proposed building 50 apartments and nearly 2,000 square feet of retail space at the site, though it later withdrew its proposal.

A look at housing projects proposed (purple icons), under construction (green icons) and inactive (yellow icons) as of March 1, 2022. Map by Jamey Padojino.

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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Affordable housing project pitched for former Mike's Bikes site

Charities Housing proposes 129 apartments for low-income residents at 3001 El Camino Real

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Mar 1, 2022, 9:47 am

Palo Alto's effort to encourage more affordable housing received a welcome boost Monday, when a developer proposed constructing 129 below-market-rate apartments on a Ventura site that was formerly occupied by Mike's Bikes.

Charities Housing, a nonprofit developer based in San Jose, filed an application on Monday for a five-story development that would consolidate three parcels at 3001-3017 El Camino Real, near Olive Avenue. The building will consist of 20 studios, 40 one-bedroom apartments, 35 two-bedroom apartments and 34 three-bedroom apartments, according to the application. It will also have 1,500 square feet of amenity space for residents on the ground floor.

The housing complex will provide apartments for residents who make between 30% of area median income and 50% of area median income, according to the application. While the exact affordability mix has yet to be determined, Charities Housing said the average affordability level is expected to be at 40% of area median income.

The community space would include a community room with a kitchen that could be used for social gatherings, a pantry to store and stage food that would be provided in partnership with organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank, a laundry room and offices for on-site social service providers.

Because the project provides affordable housing, it is entitled to obtain numerous concessions under the state density bonus law. The building would occupy 74% of the project site, well above the 50% threshold that the zoning code would typically allow. And it would not meet the city's requirement of providing 150 square feet of usable open space per dwelling.

Furthermore, because the project is within half a mile of a major transit stop, it qualifies for unlimited density under state law.

The application comes at a time when the city has been struggling to make inroads in meeting its own — as well as regional — targets for affordable housing. While Santa Clara County has spearheaded the development of below-market-rate projects at 231 Grant Ave., which targets teachers, and 525 E. Charleston Road, the city's only major 100% affordable-housing development in recent years has been Wilton Court, a 59-apartment complex at 3705 El Camino Real that the council approved in 2019 and that is now being constructed.

The city's struggles on affordable housing were highlighted in a recent Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury Report, which compared Palo Alto's progress on housing development to that of Mountain View. The grand jury recommended that Palo Alto speed up its planning process, identify additional funding mechanisms to support affordable housing and explore the creation of "area plans," vision documents that target particular areas of the cities and typically involve significant zoning changes and redevelopments that align with the city's goals.

The shortage for residents in the "low income" and "very low income" categories have been particularly acute in Palo Alto. The grand jury noted that the city approved just 80 residences for these income categories between 2015 and 2019, which represents just 7% of its obligations under the Regional Housing Needs Allocation process.

Project plans for 3001 El Camino Real show an S-shaped building with courtyards in the front and the back of the development. The building's height will not exceed 60 feet, according to the application, and it will provide a "pedestrian-scale environment in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood," the application states.

It will also provide 106 parking spaces in its garage through use of parking lifts as well a 142 bicycle parking spaces, according to the application.

This isn't the first time that the city is considering adding residences to the former Mike's Bike's site, which today consists of two unoccupied commercial buildings and a parking lot. In 2017, The Sobrato Organization proposed building 50 apartments and nearly 2,000 square feet of retail space at the site, though it later withdrew its proposal.

Comments

TuppenceT
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 1, 2022 at 12:37 pm
TuppenceT, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Affordable housing is very welcome at this location, but why the depressing Gulag color?


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2022 at 1:30 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2022 at 1:30 pm

Wonderful to see a proposal that is ALL affordable housing! (Not like the shameful Maybell proposal that was majority for a for-profit development and only a fraction of the units in the "affordable" side were in this low income range.)

Who is Charity Housing and why hasn't the City worked more with them before?

My only comment is that people don't really use puzzle lifts because they are so inconvenient (and the safety issue). But I appreciate the line they're trying to walk to be sure the parking is provided. If the project itself is honestly portrayed (again, bad memories of that with Maybell), this should be a welcome addition and model for other projects going forward.


Carl Jones
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Mar 1, 2022 at 2:26 pm
Carl Jones, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2022 at 2:26 pm

Some questions I'd not thought of before. I assume that the non-profit will own the buildings/property once completed? And that they will be the landlords? What insures that the properties will continue to be rented at the percentages that are indicated? And that the units will not be sold? What happens if the non-profit owner goes out of business or dissolves? Under what circumstances and conditions might the property/buildings be sold to another organization? Suppose one cannot be found? (remember the at-least-two building projects that promised/required a grocery store tenant and one could not be found?) I don't mean to indicate that I am opposed to this, but I do now wonder about what language is written, by whom, and where is it embodied that details all of the constraints and restrictions? I don't recall that being discussed before.


Jerry Underdal
Registered user
Barron Park
on Mar 1, 2022 at 9:58 pm
Jerry Underdal, Barron Park
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2022 at 9:58 pm

@ Carl Jones

Great question. As I understand it, financing for low-income housing like this (and the above-referenced Maybell Project) requires that the non-profit’s deed to the property be restricted so that the housing must remain affordable to low income renters for a 55-year period. Even then, the housing can only change status to market rate upon certification that there is no more need for the affordable housing the project provided. In essence, affordable housing in perpetuity.

This is not the case for projects like the Terman Apartments on Arastradero. They are owned by Goodrich West, a privately-owned real estate company based in Culver City that has a contract with HUD to accept Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers on some of the units. There is no guarantee that the project will not be converted to market rate housing at the end of a contract period if the owner decides to do so. That possibility came up several years ago, but participation in the Section 8 program was renewed. Not sure for how long.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2022 at 12:07 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2022 at 12:07 am

@shameful - fact correction!
Totally wrong about Maybell having been planned for more market rate housing than below market rate.
It was to have 60 units of BMR deed restricted apartments for seniors. And 12 or 16 market rate houses built and sold to help finance the 60 BMR apts. as is sometimes done elsewhere.
Instead we got 16 single family homes priced at around $5 million each.


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