Pet clinic poised to take over North Face | September 9, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 9, 2022

Pet clinic poised to take over North Face

Council to consider waiver for Modern Animal

by Gennady Sheyner

The building at 217 Alma St. has been vacant for so long that it remains best known for a tenant that hasn't occupied it since 2016 — The North Face — which left downtown's northwestern periphery for the tonier environs of Stanford Shopping Center.

A few businesses have considered setting up shop in the 7,771-square-foot building since then, only to walk away. A proposal in 2016 to convert the building into a restaurant fizzled when the property owner couldn't meet the parking requirements for the operation.

More recently, a float station studio leased the space and applied for a conditional use permit to operate, according to Brad Ehikian of Premier Properties, which owns the building. The city granted the permit in September 2019 but then COVID-19 rocked the retail environment and the studio proposal floated away in spring of 2020. Today, about 4,200 square feet of the building continues to be empty, while the remainder is a pharmacy operated by Walgreens.

In a letter to the city, Ehikian cited the lack of pedestrian foot traffic and insufficient parking as main reasons why The North Face left and why no one has filled the majority of the commercial space since his company began marketing it in 2015. His log of visitors shows a variety of suitors: a cat cafe, a fencing studio, a spa and a furniture store. Still, no go.

Now, Premier Properties and Palo Alto officials are hoping to compensate for the lack of foot traffic by inviting paw traffic. A veterinary clinic called Modern Animal is planning to take over the Alma Street building between Everett and Lytton streets and has already signed a lease. Before it can move in, however, it will require the City Council to approve a waiver from the retail preservation ordinance, a law that was passed in 2015 and that limits uses in downtown buildings. The council will consider the waiver at its Sept. 12 meeting.

City Planning Director Jonathan Lait has already signed off on the waiver after accepting Ehikian's argument that the building is not particularly suitable for retail. Allowing Modern Animal to occupy the space, Ehikian argued, would both fill a long-standing vacancy and create a rare opportunity for adding an animal-care facility, a use that he said is restricted in most parts of Palo Alto.

"Due to Palo Alto's restrictive zoning code, finding places to locate the animal care services necessary for all of the pandemic cats and dogs is proving extremely difficult," Ehikian wrote to the city.

"When you really dig-in on this issue, the retail preservation ordinance has effectively resulted in a moratorium, or close to it, on new animal care facilities in the city. This is especially true if someone seeks to open an animal care facility in the city's most retail heavy areas such as downtown," he wrote.

In approving the waiver, Lait concurred that animal care is consistent with the site's "commercial downtown neighborhood" zoning designation. The proposed use, Lait wrote, "encourages active pedestrian-oriented activity and connections that are conducive to retail uses."

Modern Animal currently has five locations, four in the Los Angeles area and one in San Francisco. According to its website, it plans to open two more clinics next year, in San Francisco and Mill Valley.

A letter to the city from Joe Pantano, the company's head of real estate and development, states that the Palo Alto facility will be a "general practice veterinary clinic" for dogs and cats, with services including "wellness, procedures, dental and urgent care." It will not serve as an animal hospital (though it plans to partner with animal hospitals and refer visitors as needed) or provide overnight boarding or kenneling services, according to Pantano.

In making the case for a waiver, Pantano argued that Modern Animal is a "perfect tenant" for the building and one will "bring new life to the site with a community serving use." While other tenants were put off by the pandemic and its impact on retail, Pantano noted in his letter that more than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 — adopted a pet since the onset of COVID-19.

"The result of that is an increased need for veterinary care across the United States, and Modern Animal is doing our part to address that need," Pantano wrote. "Part of the reason we are so interested in expanding to Palo Alto is because of how much this community values their pets. Palo Alto's long history of investing in pet and animal care is well-documented, and our hope is that Modern Animal can be the next chapter in that history."

The waiver will be on the council's "consent calendar," which means it will be automatically approved with no discussion or debate unless three council members opt to remove it from the calendar and schedule a full hearing on the proposal at a future date.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2022 at 12:50 pm

felix is a registered user.

Hey Gennady - Do you know if Walgreens is staying in the building in back? It’s a special “compounding pharmacy” and as such, a valuable resource for the community. I’m hoping it will remain.
The vet use seems good too.

Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 3, 2022 at 3:01 pm

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

They should really consider providing services for exotic and pocket pets as well. We don’t currently have a single clinic in Palo Alto to treat the little patients.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2022 at 9:06 pm

Curious is a registered user.

How many parking spaces do they have again?
That’s enough for a health clinic (of sorts)? (Are they providing emergency services or 24 hour care?)
But not enough parking spaces for a restaurant?

LONG OVERDUE for Palo Alto to update its zoning requirements for restaurant and retail, especially in regards to these absurd parking space RESTRICTIONS.
For restaurants especially, it seems likely that more ppl are using transportation services rather than driving themselves these days - a trend that will likely only increase. Let’s get rid of this nonsense parking space requirement so we can bring in new businesses!

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2022 at 10:16 pm

felix is a registered user.

One other thing - should have added that the next closest compounding pharmacy is in Berkeley.

So if your doctor prescribes a compounded med, to have this specialized pharmacy in town is wonderful and a resource for all local communities. So I hope it remains, with the Vet in the front building.

Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 6, 2022 at 11:32 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

There is a compounding pharmacy in SF: Koshland Pharm. Check out their website, they are a significant operation.

A vet operation at this location is a good thing, although there is a shortage of vets in our area, so how are they going to staff?

This would have been ideal location for new residential housing!

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 6, 2022 at 11:52 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

Vet, compounding pharmacy…all good.
Housing shoehorned in there? Not so much.
More residents subjected to the train horns, along busy Alma, likely underparked, doesn’t seem a plus.

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2022 at 12:19 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

This project is a total surprise to me. I missed any public notices until today.

City politics have been consumed with the lack of housing during the past two years. Isn't this site ideal for housing? I am confused why staff and council are not pushing boundaries for more housing. Palo Alto pets are important but this seems like a squandered opportunity for humans.

Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2022 at 12:25 pm

Sally-Ann Rudd is a registered user.

Love the vet idea since I’m currently driving my kitties to Mountain View for vet. Given that the property is on the edge of a large residential area where people can walk to the restaurant I don’t know why city didn’t make an exception if they wanted a restaurant there, especially since right around the corner on Lytton there are 2 restaurants one of which has zero parking (it’s in the downtown parking assessment district is why).

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2022 at 8:19 pm

Eric Filseth is a registered user.

Not commenting on this specific proposal, but vets are mobile and can earn just as much outside the Bay Area, and a lot have left in the last several years - leaving behind long appointment waits, reduced service and higher prices (specialties like exotic and pocket pets have fared among the worst; for example, the nearest Emergency Clinic that will see pet rabbits is apparently now in San Ramon). So a veterinary proposal is a bit unusual - I can’t remember seeing any others in 7.5 years on Council.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2022 at 2:36 am

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

This is an exciting development. A few thoughts:

1. Please, City Council, repeal these parking minimums which only encourage and enable one of the most environmentally destructive activities people do far too often: driving.

2. Re-fund and strengthen the electric shuttle. More shuttles = less need for parking. The defunding of the shuttle directly harmed public school students and seniors, and made SOVs the only reliable way to get around. Isn't this obvious to you?

3. I join others in frustration that the COPA does not seize upon these obvious opportunities to add to our housing stock. Yes, it is noisy on Alma. But also: living on Alma is preferable to commuting 2 hours to work and back.

4. If COPA still, obstinately, refuses to embrace these opportunities for housing, at very least require that one consumer-facing business is replaced with another consumer-facing business. Replacing the North Face with a vet clinic is a fair exchange (so please make this happen! People can walk their dogs to the vet!). I also was intrigued by the notion of a float station studio, which I had to look up (a spa with sensory deprivation tanks!). Vet clinic it is. Please help make this happen.

5. As an aside, if Council member Filseth is still reading: can you please explain how sites like this are stymied by obsolete parking requirements, while the City continues to expedite the active conversion of residential properties to commercial office properties, like is happening at 123 Sherman just south of N. California?

I don't get how hard it is for a vet to move to Alma, yet a 70,000 sq ft office building, planted in the middle of an upscale condominium development (whose residents strenuously oppose it) gets fast-tracked to break ground. Isn't there a 50K limit on new office space? Why make such a big deal about a vet when 700 unhoused workers soon will descend on North Ventura?

A lot seems wrong with this picture.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2022 at 8:17 am

resident3 is a registered user.

@Rebecca Eisenberg,

“I join others in frustration that the COPA does not seize upon these obvious opportunities to add to our housing stock. Yes, it is noisy on Alma. But also: living on Alma is preferable to commuting 2 hours to work and back”

Buildings can be built to be quiet inside and it’s time to get aggressive about increasing housing in Palo Alto proper, by local parks, shops, restaurants. That’s what will discourage using cars the most.

It’s a tragedy to use up the best of Palo Alto on commercial buildings. The vision of office density…empty offices downtown on weekends while people are sent to San Antonio or expected to have to shuttle anywhere… the City should be promoting housing where its walkable and attractive to live. Commercial buildings have people inside all the time, send them to where there’s nothing.

Posted by D. Smith
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 8, 2022 at 2:52 pm

D. Smith is a registered user.

Great place for a new veterinarian. Anyplace would be great. Unless you are a current customer, try finding a good vet within a 20 miles radius that will take on a new client

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