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Architecture board boosts Castilleja School's redevelopment plan

School picks up vote of approval after debate over latest design changes

The Architectural Review Board approved on March 17, 2022 a revised design for Castilleja's redevelopment plan, which includes modifications to the Kellogg Street façade. Rendering by WRNS Studio.

Castilleja School eked out a victory Thursday afternoon for its contentious proposal to redevelop its Bryant Street campus when Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board voted for the second time to support the project.

The board voted 3-0, with two members abstaining, to advance the project after the City Council voted last year to remand it back for further review. Both the architecture board and the city's Planning and Transportation Commission had previously approved the project in 2020 but each panel launched a fresh series of meetings after the council raised concerns in March 2021 about the school's proposed underground garage, the massing of its buildings and other details.

The board's Thursday review focused on the garage and façade changes that Castilleja was asked to make to its main academic buildings, particularly on the Kellogg Street side of the school's campus at 1310 Bryant St.

The board's unanimous vote belied deep divisions among members over the latest design changes, which now included smaller windows and pitched roofs. Further complicating the matter was the fact that two of the five board members were discouraged by staff from voting because they were only appointed this week and did not have a chance to review the recording of the board's prior public hearing on the project, which took place in December.

Despite abstaining from the final vote, the two board members, Kendra Rosenberg and Yingxi Chen, signaled that they support the compromise the three voting members, Chair Osma Thompson, Vice Chair David Hirsch and Peter Baltay, hashed out after hours of debate.

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Hirsch strongly criticized Castilleja's latest design. He deemed the school's revised façade for the academic buildings inferior to the one that the board reviewed on Dec. 2, which he called "very nice."

"It certainly isn't better the way it's shown now," Hirsch said, "I cannot vote for the building elevation the way it is shown."

Thompson and Baltay were both more supportive of the latest changes, though they agreed to compromise with Hirsch to advance the project, which has been moving through the city's approval process for more than five years and has already gone through various iterations. Baltay said he was impressed with the school's latest proposal.

"I can recommend strongly to the council that the elevation that we're looking at now is suitable, appropriate, compatible with context and also a beautiful work of architecture," Baltay said.

Ultimately, the three board members supported a compromise that reverts one section of the building along Kellogg Avenue to the prior design while approving some changes in massing to the middle portion of the façade to retain a trellis and allow some additional height. Chen supported the approach, noting that the prior design accommodated larger windows.

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"In general, a larger window size for classrooms is always better," Chen said.

The board was more unified when it came to the proposed garage, a topic that has proven particularly contentious in the neighborhood. Critics of Castilleja's redevelopment plan argued on Thursday, much as they had in the past, that the underground structure is unnecessary and inappropriate in a residential neighborhood. School officials and supporters of the project countered that the garage would obviate the need for surface parking and allow for a better design.

Castilleja School has been going through Palo Alto's approval process for its campus reconstruction plan for more than five years. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The council had debated the issue extensively in March 2021 and agreed to allow an underground garage of a limited size, one that would accommodate no more than 50% of the school's parking requirement, or about 52 spaces. The board, however, expressed a preference for a larger underground structure (what is known as Option D in the school's plans) which would include 69 underground spaces. Board members also voted to support a garage design that shifts Castilleja's proposed swimming pool and removes the underground trash and delivery space in the prior proposal, allowing the school to preserve an oak tree that was previously slated for removal (elements of what is known in the plans as Option E).

The board heard Thursday from both the supporters and critics of the Castilleja plan, which calls for gradually expanding student enrollment from 422 to 540 students. Andie Reed, member of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, argued that the school's plan remains excessive.

"They could be developing within their circle and not impact their neighbors but they're choosing not to," she said.

Other residents urged the board to move the project forward. Priya Chandrasekar cited the length of the approval process and urged the board to approve the latest plan, which she called a "huge win for the neighborhood."

"I think it's time we approve the project so that the school can start building," she said.

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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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Architecture board boosts Castilleja School's redevelopment plan

School picks up vote of approval after debate over latest design changes

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 17, 2022, 4:42 pm

Castilleja School eked out a victory Thursday afternoon for its contentious proposal to redevelop its Bryant Street campus when Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board voted for the second time to support the project.

The board voted 3-0, with two members abstaining, to advance the project after the City Council voted last year to remand it back for further review. Both the architecture board and the city's Planning and Transportation Commission had previously approved the project in 2020 but each panel launched a fresh series of meetings after the council raised concerns in March 2021 about the school's proposed underground garage, the massing of its buildings and other details.

The board's Thursday review focused on the garage and façade changes that Castilleja was asked to make to its main academic buildings, particularly on the Kellogg Street side of the school's campus at 1310 Bryant St.

The board's unanimous vote belied deep divisions among members over the latest design changes, which now included smaller windows and pitched roofs. Further complicating the matter was the fact that two of the five board members were discouraged by staff from voting because they were only appointed this week and did not have a chance to review the recording of the board's prior public hearing on the project, which took place in December.

Despite abstaining from the final vote, the two board members, Kendra Rosenberg and Yingxi Chen, signaled that they support the compromise the three voting members, Chair Osma Thompson, Vice Chair David Hirsch and Peter Baltay, hashed out after hours of debate.

Hirsch strongly criticized Castilleja's latest design. He deemed the school's revised façade for the academic buildings inferior to the one that the board reviewed on Dec. 2, which he called "very nice."

"It certainly isn't better the way it's shown now," Hirsch said, "I cannot vote for the building elevation the way it is shown."

Thompson and Baltay were both more supportive of the latest changes, though they agreed to compromise with Hirsch to advance the project, which has been moving through the city's approval process for more than five years and has already gone through various iterations. Baltay said he was impressed with the school's latest proposal.

"I can recommend strongly to the council that the elevation that we're looking at now is suitable, appropriate, compatible with context and also a beautiful work of architecture," Baltay said.

Ultimately, the three board members supported a compromise that reverts one section of the building along Kellogg Avenue to the prior design while approving some changes in massing to the middle portion of the façade to retain a trellis and allow some additional height. Chen supported the approach, noting that the prior design accommodated larger windows.

"In general, a larger window size for classrooms is always better," Chen said.

The board was more unified when it came to the proposed garage, a topic that has proven particularly contentious in the neighborhood. Critics of Castilleja's redevelopment plan argued on Thursday, much as they had in the past, that the underground structure is unnecessary and inappropriate in a residential neighborhood. School officials and supporters of the project countered that the garage would obviate the need for surface parking and allow for a better design.

The council had debated the issue extensively in March 2021 and agreed to allow an underground garage of a limited size, one that would accommodate no more than 50% of the school's parking requirement, or about 52 spaces. The board, however, expressed a preference for a larger underground structure (what is known as Option D in the school's plans) which would include 69 underground spaces. Board members also voted to support a garage design that shifts Castilleja's proposed swimming pool and removes the underground trash and delivery space in the prior proposal, allowing the school to preserve an oak tree that was previously slated for removal (elements of what is known in the plans as Option E).

The board heard Thursday from both the supporters and critics of the Castilleja plan, which calls for gradually expanding student enrollment from 422 to 540 students. Andie Reed, member of the group Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now, argued that the school's plan remains excessive.

"They could be developing within their circle and not impact their neighbors but they're choosing not to," she said.

Other residents urged the board to move the project forward. Priya Chandrasekar cited the length of the approval process and urged the board to approve the latest plan, which she called a "huge win for the neighborhood."

"I think it's time we approve the project so that the school can start building," she said.

Comments

cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:43 am
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:43 am
Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:43 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:43 am

How special that Casti's teaching its girls that breaking the law for years has no consequences. Just the type of future leaders we need. Now I'm patiently waiting for a single Casti parent to condemn sexism and discrimination at their own workplaces. Tick tock tick tock.

Seriously this is a very sad day. I want a comparison of the fines Casti has paid over the years for violating their enrollment caps vs what this process has cost the city in terms of staff time when they should have just said no to the lawbreaker years ago.


PST
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:59 am
PST, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 11:59 am

Hooray! It’s time to green light this entire remodel and student increase. A few vocal and persistent obstructionists that represent themselves rather than community sentiment are misguided and tiresome. There are no new valid reasons to delay further. Let’s all move on to much more important matters.


Lorraine Brown
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2022 at 1:01 pm
Lorraine Brown, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 1:01 pm

I so appreciate the ARB recognizing the great benefits of underground parking, the elegance of the building design, and the need to advance this project after so many hearings, revisions, and compromises. And beyond that, thank you to the commissioners for compromising for the sake of the greater good. Kudos to the ARB!


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2022 at 1:48 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2022 at 1:48 pm

The elegance of the cars backed up om Embarcadero should win some award. Maybe the Arts Commission can commission proposals for a nice statue? Or paint the underside of the tunnel. Possibilities for community beautification abound.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Mar 21, 2022 at 9:11 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Mar 21, 2022 at 9:11 pm

So, b/c the approval process has been protracted, this project should be approved? That's an approval criterion that rewards applicants with deep pockets. Wealthy applicants like Castilleja can submit a plan that is far over-reaching and non-compliant and wait out the approval process, eventually claiming that the project should be approved BECAUSE it has taken so long! Marissa Mayer: take note. You can probably eventually get exactly what you want, too.

Should this project be approved as is with the underground garage, the City will be sending this clear message: the City's S-CAP goals are irrelevant. Garages, concrete, cement, removing trees, cars, and driving are a-ok; in fact, the City endorses all those things. That consequence might be unintended, but it will be out there all the same.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2022 at 8:28 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 22, 2022 at 8:28 am

This is fairly non-consequential, whichever "side" you are on. The nature of this debacle has been traffic, enrollment cap, and broad impact, none of which are under the purview of the ARB....

Nothing against the ARB, they are doing their job and serving the public, but talking about facades, design, windows, roofs and trellises just isn't where it's at here.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2022 at 6:07 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 6:07 pm

I wonder if the ARB was able to receive all the documents related to the Melville Public Utility easement as requested by Castilleja in order to build their underground garage?

Would be, to my knowledge, the first time the City has granted an easement has been granted to a private non-profit. Without the easement; no garage is possible.

I requested these documents in 6/21 via a Freedom of Information Request; I did not receive all the documents. Emails in 6/2108 had documents attached, but those documents were NOT included in the papers sent to me. I know they exist but where?

After some blatant misinformation was provided by Senior Planning staff to the PTC, I asked Ms. French for them. While she indicated they were part of the public record, I have not received them .....several months after my 2nd request.

The Head of Public Works tried to help me locate the documents but was unsuccessful. Still waiting for a response for these missing and vital documents from our City Manager.

Seems like only Mr Price of the Daily Post can eventually located public rerecords!

If anyone on the ARB has the complete set of the Melville Public Utility Easement documents, please let me know thru an email comment on this site.

Otherwise, if you do not; how can a decision be made without all the pertinent information available for review?

As a Castilleja parent, I am quite concerned about the SPECIAL treatment Castilleja has received during this lengthy process.

Yes, ONLINE NAME is quite correct on their comments. Thank you


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2022 at 6:11 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 6:11 pm

Ms. Chandrasekar lives in Crescent Park. How does she know if this is a huge win for a neighborhood she does not inhabit?


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:30 pm
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:30 pm

Rita, there are people that specialize in CPRA violations. If you have proof the documents exist, the matter is pretty open and shut. The "we can't find it" nonsense needs to be held to account.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2022 at 5:15 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 5:15 pm

S. Underwood... can you elaborate on your last post, please.

thank you

somehow it seems making a request, then asking Amy French and then our City Manager should be enough to receive a public document. Apparently it is not.

My concern was increased following Mr. Shikada's comment in the 3/18/22 Daily Post that "he has been emailing the CC weekly briefings without the public's knowledge since he became CM in 2019. He indicated (per the Post article) that these briefings were not private because they could be obtained through the California Public Records Act".

Not a very transparent process. Should the public really need to submit Public Record Requests each week to find out what is happening at City Hall?

I think it would be a failure given my inability to obtain "public documents" on the Melville Public Utility Easement.

It has become a game.. find me if you can.

Any help is appreciated. Thank you.


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