Four-story building eyed for downtown Palo Alto | August 24, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 24, 2012

Four-story building eyed for downtown Palo Alto

New offices would stand on prominent corner of Hamilton Avenue and High Street

by Gennady Sheyner

Just months after Palo Alto approved construction of a new four-story building in a prime downtown location, another major commercial development is preparing to make its way through the city's permitting process before going up within a few blocks of the University Avenue Caltrain station.

Charles "Chop" Keenan, a prominent developer whose other downtown projects include buildings that house Miyake Restaurant, Wells Fargo Bank and the former Varsity Theatre on University Avenue, is looking to build a four-story building on Hamilton Avenue, near High Street. The 26,774-square-foot project at 135 Hamilton Ave. would stand just three blocks away from the Lytton Gateway development, a four-story project that the City Council approved in May despite widespread concern from residential neighbors about how the building would affect parking on their streets.

Much like Lytton Gateway, Keenan's proposed development would consist largely of office space. Its bottom three stories would all be dedicated to commercial use, while the top story would include two apartments, according to the application. The building would also include a one-story underground parking garage with 23 spots and "rotating parking lifts" that would allow cars to be stacked.

Also like Lytton Gateway, Keenan's new project seeks to establish itself as a "gateway" building to downtown Palo Alto and as the type of transit-oriented development that the city has been trying to court to reduce parking and traffic impacts. While Lytton Gateway seeks to serve as the city's architectural welcome sign to commuters arriving at the downtown Caltrain station, Keenan hopes his new building will fulfill the same function on Hamilton Avenue. That area currently is filled with an eclectic mix of older buildings that house startups and small businesses as well as glassy new developments housing venture capital firms and technology companies such as Palantir, which is based at 100 Hamilton Ave.

The site where the project would be built is currently a parking lot used by Palantir employees.

In the application, Keenan notes that "as one of the few, new buildings in this part of the Downtown — and the only new four-story building — the project becomes an important 'gateway' into the Downtown from west Hamilton Avenue."

Another similarity between the two new four-story developments is their proximity to the downtown Caltrain station — a factor that both applications have played. The application for 135 Hamilton notes the project would be just two blocks from the University Avenue transit hub.

"We are confident that the project will be found to be exemplary as a mixed-use, transit-oriented housing and commercial project with prominent, gateway features," the application states.

The similarities between the two projects probably aren't purely coincidental. Jim Baer, who was part of the applicant team for Lytton Gateway and who has long been one of Palo Alto's most prolific developers, is also consulting on Keenan's project.

Keenan will likely have an easier time getting the city's approval than the team behind Lytton Gateway did, however. Unlike Lytton Gateway LLC, Keenan is not seeking a zone change to "planned community" — a designation that allows for greater flexibility and development density. Lytton's developers engaged in extensive negotiations with the city and had to offer a package of "public benefits" — including a commitment to include a retail business at the ground floor and a $2 million contribution toward construction of a future parking garage — to get the PC zone approval.

The project, Keenan wrote in the application, is consistent with the site's existing "downtown commercial" (CD) zoning and will not need any variances, zone changes or other exceptions to the zoning code.

Keenan's first test will be getting an approval from the city's Architectural Review Board, which will get its first look at the proposed design next month, Planning Director Curtis Williams said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


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