The issues over parking and "benefits" bubbled up at the Monday, March 12, public hearing for the "Lytton Gateway" project, a marathon discussion that featured testimony from about 20 residents, a series of split votes and a wide-ranging debate by the City Council about what they want to see in the new building. Faced with competing priorities, council members ultimately decided to defer a final decision on the project.
Instead, the council voted 6-3 — with Councilwomen Karen Holman, Nancy Shepherd and Gail Price dissenting — to direct the applicants to further revise the application and to consider reducing the number of stories in the project.
The development under discussion — a five-story building featuring three stories of office space, ground-floor retail, 14 apartments and an underground garage — would stand at Alma Street and Lytton Avenue, near the downtown Caltrain station. The applicants — Lund Smith, Boyd Smith, Scott Foster and Jim Baer — characterized the project as the perfect example of a transit-oriented development — a dense, mixed-use building next to a major transit site.
Various downtown property owners have come out in favor of the project, as has the Sierra Club, which wrote a letter supporting the dense development because of its proximity to Caltrain. The Palo Alto Housing Corporation, a local nonprofit that manages the city's affordable-housing stock, also endorsed the project, which includes seven below-market-rate units.
The project has also received the blessings of the city's Architectural Review Board and, more recently, its Planning and Transportation Commission, which voted to approve the project last month after four lengthy meetings. While few residents attended the previous public hearings on 101 Lytton Ave., more than two dozen showed up to the Monday night council hearing.
Council members agreed that the site, which was previously occupied by a Shell gas station, is ideally suited for a large new development. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff called it "probably the best site in the city" for an office building and Councilman Sid Espinosa said it was "the right kind of a development, from my perspective, for the right site." But members had different ideas when it came to the details — namely, just how big the building should be and which "public benefits" the applicants should be forced to provide in exchange for dramatically exceeding the city's zoning regulations.
Concerns over the new building's parking impacts also loomed large during Monday's discussion. Residents and property owners from Downtown North and other nearby neighborhoods attended the meeting, with many arguing that the project is far too large and that it would burden the neighborhood with more cars than it can accommodate.
The project, as proposed, would include 130 parking spaces, including eight outdoor spaces that would be open to the public and 14 underground spots that would be available to the public on nights and weekends. The development would also include a valet-parking system that would allow the building to accommodate 164 cars and a transportation-demand management plan geared toward getting people out of their vehicles in favor of other modes of transportation. This includes buying Caltrain Go Passes for the building's occupants.
Boyd Smith of the applicant team told the council that his group has been meeting with neighborhood residents and striving to meet their concerns about parking. Unlike most of downtown, the residential Downtown North currently doesn't have any parking restrictions, a situation that prompts many office workers to leave their cars in the neighborhood, various residents told the council. Many have called for a parking-permit program that would limit the amount of time nonresidents can park in the neighborhood. Smith said the applicants are willing to pay the city $250,000 for a study to evaluate possible parking solutions for the neighborhood.
"We have done everything we can to be thoughtful and responsive to those (parking) concerns," Boyd Smith said.
Many remained skeptical. Sally-Ann Rudd, who lives in Downtown North, said her neighborhood had become the "overflow parking lot" of downtown and encouraged the council to institute a permit program. Another resident, Tina Peak, went a step further and said the project is far too big for the neighborhood. She asked the council to demand that the applicants reduce the building's size.
"Currently this city is not even close to being sustainable on its own and adding more and more development will get us no closer to this goal," Peak said. "Please send this project back to the drawing board or, better yet, to the chopping block to bring it down to size."
Some on the council shared her view that the project, as proposed, is too big. The building would be 64-feet tall and would feature as its centerpiece a tower that rises higher than 80 feet. It would thus exceed the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments.
TALK ABOUT IT
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