Children's gym hits stalemate | December 28, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 28, 2007

Children's gym hits stalemate

Bland design among review board's concerns about gym planned near freeway

by Arden Pennell

A youth sports gym proposed for a lot abutting U.S. Highway 101 in south Palo Alto has so far encountered negative reviews from Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board.

The gym is the brainchild of local fathers Jason Peery and John Stevens, who have trouble finding enough space to coach their collective 11 children in various sports teams, Peery said.

Developers have proposed tearing down the current building at 3750 Fabian Way — formerly Kiki's Candy Bar — and erecting an 11,320 square-foot gym with an additional 1,670 square feet of storage, according to the project description provided to the city. It would include a basketball/volleyball court and locker rooms.

The sports space would be used by junior varsity and younger sports teams of the Los Altos-based Pinewood school and Palo Alto schools, the proposal states.

Peery is overseeing design and construction of the project, but it would be owned by Pinewood, a private K-12 school that has three campuses but only one gym, he said.

His agreement with Pinewood will allow the sports groups he and Stevens coach, such as National Junior Basketball and church teams, to use the gym, he said.

"We saw an opportunity for the community and for Pinewood to have a nice gymnasium in a city that's short on gym space," he said.

But members of the Architectural Review Board, which reviewed project in mid-December, decided the project has too many flaws to proceed at this time.

The board was split 2-2 — with member Heather Trossman absent — on whether the project should be rejected or merely revised, member Judith Wasserman said Wednesday.

The split sends the project to Director of Planning and Community Environment Steve Emslie, who can reject it, accept it or send it back to the architectural board, Associate Planner Jennifer Cutler said.

Emslie is out of the office until Jan. 2, a department spokeswoman said.

Wasserman and member David Solnick voted to reject the project.

" I didn't think there was enough that was approvable for continuation," Wasserman said.

Solnick said he found the structure bland. The proposed building's tilt-up concrete walls were more suitable for an office park than a gym, he said.

"It very much looked like an office building. ... I have a different image for that than for a gym for children," Solnick said after the meeting.

Two walls, which abut lot lines, would also be prohibited by the building code from having windows, Solnick said. The windowless walls would face a creek, but new condominiums across the creek would also face the plain structure, he said.

Architect Richard Campbell said it is unlikely the project can afford to replace the concrete walls with a jazzier texture. But he and Peery are looking at adding decorative elements and color to the exterior to respond to board concerns, he said.

Solnick also questioned why an upstairs space labeled "storage" had large windows and an airy staircase, he said.

"It was pretty clear to me it was intended to be something quite different," he said.

Board Chair Clare Malone-Pritchard and Vice Chair Grace Lee, who supported continuing the project, were not available for comment.

Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at Additional reporting by Staff Writer Becky Trout.


Like this comment
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2007 at 8:47 am

Another example of what is wrong with our city--another one of our vaunted committees/boards, made up of people who have no connection with reality, are blocking the building of a children's gym.
Keep up the good work, Architectual Review Board, we wouldn't want anything "bland" in our city!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Matt Dillon
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 28, 2007 at 10:59 am

Wasserman and member David Solnick voted to reject the project.

Are these two people blind? This is a 1) gymnasiums are bland in appearance they are build for function not some art project. 2) the location is in an industrial area with offices buildings all around also with a 8 lane freeway in the front yard windows would transmit noise into the gym.

How many gyms has this Solnick person build? This person Solnick is standing in the way of progress and limiting the revenue in Palo Alto. Developing this property would add to the property tax rolls something that Palo Alto needs. I say replace Solnick and Wasserman they are the problem!

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2007 at 11:07 am

Once I read "abutting U.S. Highway 101" I didn't need to read more - if its next to 101, who cares how it looks?

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Posted by Henry W.
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2007 at 11:40 am

It might be helpful to look further into what sounds like a strange design, like, what's the hidden agenda of the builders. Sounds like an office building when their kids are through with it.
Not so fast, those architects know more about architecture than, just as an example, library commissioners know about libraries. You may be a universal expert, but not everyone is.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2007 at 11:58 am

Henry W---this is an example of what is wrong with this city and how things are handled here.
We have a commission of "experts" that hold up progress. This happens over and over again in palo alto as these commissions and boards nitpick projects to death, while they play their power games.
This happened also with the Google Day care near the Baylands:
Web Link

Seems like Solnick has an issue with things he calls bland and the board as a whole seems to enjoy nitpicking projects. I guess this is just part of the PA process.

As others have pointed out this is in an industrial area abutting highway 101.
Do you have evidence that the builders have a "hidden agenda"? If so, please present it to all of us

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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2007 at 3:38 pm

This is a patently absurd decision. What was Kiki's? A party house for kids and corporations. It was a place where people went for purchased entertainment; it's on 101. For god's sake, when will we get planning and architectural commissioners in place who have a sense of reality about projects like this, and speed them along?

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Posted by Dismayed
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 28, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Wow. If the city doesn't green-light a project like this, what will they approve? The location couldn't be more innocuous and the need is definitely there for the gym space! The ARB in this city is becoming just a joke.

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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2007 at 6:12 pm

about architects: architects lost their soul when their profession was separated from building things within larager contexts, and thinking that way. What's left are home and bulding designers who take a few urban design courses. The Architectual Review Board has devolved to an "Aesthetics Commission". Who needs that? This is a worthy project, and what I've heard and read about this holdup amounts to little more than "meddling", and a poor understanding of the realities of intra-urban commerce.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2007 at 11:52 am

As a parent of kids in basketball, I am tired of driving them all up and down the peninsula, not just for games, but for practices. We are really limited with the numbers of gyms in Palo Alto and the numbers of kids wanting to get into Y basketball and NJB are growing all the time. As it is, a practice in the backwaters of Menlo Park or Redwood City ending at 9.00 p.m. on a school night, is not my idea of afterschool activities, but that is what we have.

We need at least another gym, and this location would be ideal. I live locally so I am particularly in favor, but even if I didn't, one more would help the overall situation.

We want more gyms. Please give us this one. Thank you.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2008 at 7:17 am

You should see some of Solnick's designs around Downtown North - box like homes that look like office buildings among all the craftsman style houses - how did any of his designs ever get approved based on his comments on the gym? City council needs to look at this.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2008 at 12:27 pm

If you think about it Solnick is on the board--so seems to me that it is not a problem for him to get his designs approved.