In addition to bringing more housing to the neighborhood, the main goals of the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan are to create better transportation options and add public amenities, including retail and open spaces.
The area under study is bounded by El Camino Real on the west, the Caltrain corridor on the east, Page Mill Road on the north and Lambert Avenue on the south.
So far, most of the work has occurred behind the scenes, with a 14-member Working Group composed of residents, business owners and property owners discussing the possibilities over the course of three meetings. The Tuesday community meeting was an opportunity for the greater community to weigh in.
About three dozen people, many of them Ventura residents and members of the Working Group, came to Mitchell Park Community Center. Most voiced supported for improving bike paths, supporting retail, revitalizing Matadero Creek and creating more affordable housing, even if it means relaxing the city's 50-foot height limit.
But while residents broadly supported pedestrian and bike improvements, they were far less enthusiastic about cars. When polled, 69 percent of the attendees said they would support a plan that creates more pathways for pedestrian and bikes to take but not for cars; while only 12 percent said they would like to see more routes for all three modes.
Many in attendance said they prefer a layout in which cars primarily use roads on the periphery of the area, namely Park Boulevard, El Camino Real and Page Mill.
Residents also supported adding more park amenities, with the restoration of Matadero Creek, which is currently a concrete channel, proving particularly popular. Attendees also made a case for more rooftop gardens and community gardens, particularly if new multifamily housing is approved in the neighborhood.
Overall, the vast majority of those in attendance — 89 percent — either "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the city's goal to create in Ventura "walkable neighborhoods with multifamily housing, ground-floor retail, a public park, creek improvements and an interconnected street grid." A somewhat smaller majority of 75 percent also approved of the idea of raising the height limit to accommodate the new apartment complexes, with varying levels of enthusiasm.
When polled, 33 percent said they support raising the height limit for the area, while 42 percent said they would be willing to increase the limit while expressing concern about buildings taller than three stories. Twenty-one percent said they oppose allowing buildings to exceed the height barrier.
The residents' acceptance of taller buildings was by no means unconditional. Throughout the meeting, residents repeatedly expressed support for providing affordable housing for residents making 80 percent of area median income or less, while making clear they don't want to see much more market-rate housing. Attendees advised that tall buildings should be spaced out to avoid creating a "canyon" effect.
The sentiment was widely shared among participants, who first offered their opinions through real-time electronic votes and later discussed their positions with their tablemates.
Cedric de La Beaujardiere, representing one of the tables, spoke for many in attendance when he shared his group's views on building heights.
"If heights are increased, it should be stepped up — not just big canyons," de La Beaujardiere said. "If we have affordable housing, it should be nice designs, not cheap and ugly and dehumanizing."
There was far less consensus on what types of new retail and services the city should attract to Ventura. When asked, 26 percent gave top preference to "neighborhood-serving retail" (hardware stores, pharmacies, grocery stores and the like) and 30 percent said they would like to see more restaurants and cafes. Rebecca Parker Mankey, a Ventura resident who is on the Working Group, said she would like to see a place where local teenagers can have coffee and hang out with friends so that they "won't have to leave town to have fun."
Another 26 percent supported the idea of creating "artist and maker spaces," or other places where people can gather, create, invent and learn.
There was one point of complete consensus: The idea of attracting a boutique hotel to Ventura didn't get a single vote.
The Ventura neighborhood is only the second in Palo Alto to be selected for a "coordinated area plan" — a process that includes intensive collaboration by area stakeholders and that results in zone changes and, presumably, redevelopment. The other neighborhood to undergo such a plan was the South of Forest Avenue area in downtown. That multiyear process occurred in two phases and was completed in 2003.
In addition to the Ventura plan, Palo Alto leaders are preparing to undertake a coordinated area plan in the downtown area, an ambitious effort that will consider — among many other efforts — the reconstruction of the Transit Center and the separation of Palo Alto Avenue from the rail corridor.
While the turnout at Tuesday's meeting was somewhat modest, city leaders hope to get more residents involved as the process moves along. The city plans to hold a Town Hall meeting on March 11 dedicated completely to Ventura. The council and the Working Group will both partake in the meeting, and residents will have another chance to offer their views on the neighborhood's future.
Planning Director Jonathan Lait said the goal of the meetings is to gauge residents' interest in new housing, additional services and the realignment of roads. Some sections of Ventura are intended to be preserved or enhanced, he said. Others would be redeveloped for new purposes.
"We're going into this with the expectation that there will be some changes in the neighborhood," Lait said.
TALK ABOUT IT
What would you like to see included in the North Ventura plan? Offer your ideas on Town Square, the community discussion forum at PaloAltoOnline.com/square.
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