The following was written in response to the announcement of results of a survey done by the Barron Park Association on Wednesday, July 3. By a large margin, members approved support by the BPA of a referendum and recommended allocating BPA funds to do so. Jerry Underdal is a member of BPA and a long-time resident of Barron Park.
Please Don’t Kick it Away
I credit the Barron Park and Green Acres communities for accomplishing a great deal in pushing back against a hastily put-together, though well-intentioned, project that didn't show an awareness of the deep suspicion of city hall and seething resentment over traffic impacts of the Arastradero makeover. Thanks to our efforts, the city was forced to acknowledge that we have a major traffic safety problem that has to be dealt with even if the Maybell/Clemo property reverts to apricot orchard. Public opinion around the city swung to sympathy and support for a neighborhood seen as fighting a process of land-use change that leaves citizens feeling powerless. Here was a neighborhood that wasn't going to take it lying down. And (here I differ from the strong majority of BPA membership) we got concession after concession as PAHC and the City Council fought to keep the project alive and show the neighbors that it truly was trying to come up with a project that would be a point of pride for Barron Park, not dismay.
Do members know that there will be 7 two-story homes on Maybell, with varied set-backs of 18–22 feet so there won't be a monotonous sameness, and the fronts of the buildings are to have distinctive elements so they look like anything but the generic rows of townhouses that we see elsewhere. There'll be no driveways onto Maybell. There will be 5 three-story homes on Clemo, the upper portions concealed by existing oak trees. Traffic will be restricted from accessing Maybell except through the adjacent apartment house complex parking lot. An amount of $200,000 is provided for addressing safety concerns on Maybell--work to be completed before actual construction begins. And, of course, the main goal and public benefit for this project would be the 60 units of affordable housing for seniors with limited income, with attractive landscaping inside the complex.
Would a commercial developer would have to put up with these restrictions if they bought the property and built it out to current zoning limits. No. They would probably build the maximum allowed, between 34–46 family living units, exact number to be determined by what will generate greatest profit. And of course there would be no affordable housing for seniors.
I checked on how much PAHC paid and whether they overpaid. My understanding is that several developers submitted bids in the $16M area. PAHC came in a bit under that but the offer was successful because PAHC could close in 2012, which had tax advantages for the seller, and there were some other tax consequences in the seller's favor. My takeaway: if PAHC hadn't bought that land we'd soon be watching the bulldozers preparing ground for a large project that, by right of ownership, the developer could get permits for without Planning and Transportation Committee or City Council review. Citizen input? Are you kidding?
With public sympathy, City Council awareness, community engagement and the energy of Barron Park and Green Acres residents we have given Barron Park a chance to have an attractive, neighborhood-friendly element on Maybell for 50 years and beyond. People worried about the impact on home values (yes, there are some) should set their minds at ease. The commercial developer doing the single-family homes is not going to produce inferior houses because they'll be doing what they can to coax top-dollar out of discriminating buyers.
Or we can demand that the city rescind the rezoning and take our chances on Plan B.
I live a block off Maybell. When I look up Able toward the property in question I see the 8-story Tan Apartments looming over all. Having tastefully done 2-story single family homes on lot sizes that match the area to within 2 ft (48' vs 50') break up that view will be a pleasure, even with the 4-story senior apartments visible above the 2-story rooftops. The property along Maybell is currently zoned R-2, so Plan B would probably involve 4-5 duplexes along that same stretch. The rest of the property is zoned R-15, multi-family housing.
On traffic, I am as involved as anyone else I know of in this community in trying to make Maybell safe for student bicyclists and look forward to seeing the neighborhood actively engage with the city in pushing for solutions that put student safety as the number one priority. That's another discussion. Suffice it to say that I believe we will have more, not less traffic to deal with if the project does not go through. I live right here, this is my neighborhood and as a retired teacher I know how important it is that kids be safe on the streets. By and large Palo Alto kids are responsible cyclists, motorists are accommodating, and parents are doing their darnedest. But it shouldn't be so hard to avoid getting hurt. We want more students cyclists, not fewer, on Maybell so parents won't feel they have to drive their students to school.
Congratulations, Barron Park and Green Acres for what you've accomplished. Please don't kick it away.