Ever since Palo Alto launched its "planned home zoning" process three years ago in a bid to attract more residential constructions, victories have been few and far between.
Most of the proposals that the city had received under the new zoning designation, which allows housing developers to negotiate with the City Council over exemptions from height limits, density restrictions, parking rules and other local regulations, failed to advance past the initial "prescreening" phase. As of the end of last year, just one project — a 65-apartment complex at 660 University Ave. — moved ahead with a formal application after receiving initial council feedback.
Now, another proposal is hoping to win approval — this time on the southern end of the city. Saratoga-based developer TS 800SA LLC has filed a formal application for a 76-condominium project on a commercial site at 808 San Antonio Road, next to the Mountain View border. The site currently includes the tutoring company Sequoia Academy and Body Kneads Day Spa, buildings that would be demolished to make way for the new residential development.
The 60-foot tall, all-electric building would include 16 units that would be designated as below-market housing for various income levels (seven for "very low" income, five for "low" income and four for "medium" income).
The Planning and Transportation Commission is tentatively scheduled to review the application next month, after which time the proposal would move on to the council for consideration.
The project is relying on the PHZ zoning designation to exceed the city's 50-foot height limit and density restrictions — exceptions that the developer says are needed to build more units.
The land's existing "service commercial" zone generally allows up to 30 dwellings units per acre. In this case, the 0.87-acre site would have nearly three times the density than is normally allowed.
If approved, the project would occupy a portion of the city that Palo Alto officials are eying for a significant housing surge. The city's recently adopted Palo Alto Housing Element calls for bringing more than 2,000 housing units to industrial and commercial zones around San Antonio Road and Fabian Way between 2023 and 2031, which is roughly a third of the city's total housing allocation.
Jordan Rose, senior project manager for the project architect, Lowney Architecture, cited the city's goals to bring San Antonio as one of the reasons for the requested zone change.
"The area immediately surrounding this parcel is currently largely industrial in nature, but the city of Palo Alto has been encouraging the development of more multi-family housing along the San Antonio corridor in the future," Rose wrote in the project description. "The increases requested as part of the PHZ designation would help this project to accomplish these goals."
According to project plans, the new condominium building would include a community room and a gym on the ground floor, an underground garage with 144 parking spaces and an interior courtyard. The development would include 52 two-bedroom units, 16 three-bedroom units and eight one-bedroom units, the plans show.
The developer has already received some encouraging signs from the council. During a "pre-screening" hearing last August, council members encouraged Yorke Lee of TS 800 SA to move ahead with the housing proposal. Vice Mayor Greer Stone noted at that time that by replacing commercial properties, the new housing development would improve the city's jobs-housing imbalance and help the city meet its broader housing goals. He also encouraged the developer to incorporate more landscaping elements into the plan.
"I think the San Antonio corridor is a great location for housing," Stone said. "I'm just concerned it's going to become a concrete jungle on that avenue with potential large housing projects being built and would like to see that get broken down a little more with some trees. Overall, I think this is a good project."
Lee isn't the only developer eying the area around San Antonio Road for new housing. In 2020, the council unanimously approved a 102-apartment project for a nearby site at 788 San Antonio Road. The city is also reviewing a larger proposal for 3997 Fabian Way, which could bring 350 apartments to the site by relying on "builder's remedy," a provision in state law that allows residential developers to override local zoning rules in jurisdictions that do not have a certified Housing Element.