The original Community Plan created a requirement that all new development fall inside this boundary, which excludes open space west of Junipero Serra Boulevard, and that the boundary remain in place until 2025. During this time, any proposals to build outside of the academic growth boundary will require support from four of the county's five supervisors.
"The concept of the growth boundary as it applies to Stanford is a basic one: Development must occur within the AGB, with lands outside the AGB remaining in open space," the Community Plan states. "The AGB is the primary mechanism for promoting compact urban development and resources conservation in the Community Plan, and it serves as the basis for associated policies throughout the plan that reinforce this basic demarcation line."
The county's proposed amendment would take the dotted line along Junipero Serra, between Sand Hill and Page Mill roads, and effectively solidify it for 99 years. The Community Plan would still require four of five county supervisors to modify the boundary, rather than a simple majority of three supervisors.
County planners are proposing numerous edits to the Community Plan to underscore the boundary's permanence, striking language that characterizes it as an interim planning tool and inserting wording that effectively establishes it as the status quo.
The amended Community Plan would, for example, do away with a statement that the boundary is "not meant to be a permanent planning boundary" and that it is intended to stay in place "until a defined level of development intensity has been achieved on lands within the growth boundary." Rather, the new plan would state that the boundary is "intended to provide a planning boundary for academic development on the Stanford campus on a long-term basis if planned development can be accommodated within its boundaries."
The new plan notes that the limit encourages the "efficient use of Stanford lands"; promotes a concentration of people and activities that are needed to support transit and other non-automobile modes of transportation; and "preserves open space, protects natural resources and scenic vistas, and avoids geologic hazards in foothill areas outside the AGB."
Although the Stanford application proposes keeping all existing rules around the boundary in place, county officials, with the amendment, are indicating that more stringent measures are needed to protect the foothills beyond 2025. In supporting the new requirement, Supervisor Joe Simitian pointed to a 2018 county study that measured Stanford's development potential. Known as the Stanford University Sustainable Development Study Supplement, the document concluded that Stanford can theoretically accommodate up to 44 million square feet of development on its campus over the next 100 years within the academic growth boundary.
The study also concluded that attaining such a level of growth within the core campus would require Stanford to roughly triple its density. Even so, Stanford's density would become on par with similar institutions. Today, Stanford's academic campus has a square-footage ratio of buildings to land of 0.34, well below the floor-area-ratio range of 0.9 to 2.64 at comparable universities, according to the study.
The supplement's findings, Simitian said, helped inform the county's position toward preserving the foothills.
"You can nearly triple the size of the current campus, given the current rate of growth, over the next 100 years and you still would be at a density that is typical for a major university like this," Simitian told the Weekly, "which then I think led to the conclusion on the part of many, including apparently our planning staff, that if you could — using smart-growth, compact-development strategies — nearly triple the size of the organization over the next 100 years, why would we even be thinking about moving growth up into the foothills?"
The proposed changes, while significant, are unlikely to change Stanford's near-term expansion plans. The university's application does not propose any development in the foothills. Stanford also credits the academic growth boundary with channeling campus growth "on infill locations within the core campus most suitable for development" and with protecting "natural resources on lands in the foothills."
Stanford has not issued any formal responses to the county's proposal to continue the academic growth boundary by 99 years. University spokeswoman Jean McCown told the Weekly on Tuesday that Stanford is still evaluating the county's newly released documents.
But the university's application does not propose to extend the timeframe of the boundary, and Stanford leaders have in the past resisted discussing growth beyond 2035, citing the difficulty of making predictions about the university's future needs.
The county's Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the proposed amendments to the Community Plan and the county's proposed conditions of approval for Stanford's expansion over the course of three hearings, the first of which was held Thursday at Palo Alto City Hall's Council Chambers. The second and third meetings are scheduled for June 13 and 27, both at 1:30 p.m. at the Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium, County Government Center (70 W. Hedding St., San Jose).
READ MORE ONLINE
Coverage of the May 30 county Planning Commission hearing, which took place after the Weekly's press deadline, is posted on PaloAltoOnline.com.
WATCH THE WEBCAST
On "Behind the Headlines" this week, Weekly journalists Bill Johnson and Gennady Sheyner interview Supervisor Joe Simitian about Thursday night's Planning Commission hearing and the overall general-use permit process. The webcast will be posted by Friday evening at YouTube.com/paweekly/videos. Listen to the podcast version at PaloAltoOnline.com/podcasts.
This story contains 998 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.