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August 10, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

News Digest News Digest (August 10, 2005)

Home plans for Rickey's Hyatt site move forward

Homebuilder D.R. Horton cleared the first hurdle Friday on its plans to build 181 homes on the former Rickey's Hyatt property in south Palo Alto. The city's Architectural Review Board voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the application to the city's planning director.

The plans have gained the enthusiastic support of the Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association, which had fought a 10-year battle over prior plans to build more than 300 apartments in addition to a renovated hotel. Those plans were finally scrapped last year and D.R. Horton was brought on board in December to build the smaller number of homes.

The neighbors last week urged the approval of the project, to end years of uncertainty over the development of the land.

Due to the scope of the project, the board meeting lasted a near-record 5.5 hours. Judith Wasserman, chair of the Architectural Review Board, said it was likely the longest meeting devoted to a single development project in recent years. Past meetings have lasted six hours, but covered multiple issues.

Conceived as "life in a garden setting," the 16-acre project includes 170 multi-family homes and 11 single-family homes, the latter which would be built along Wilkie Way. In its most recent plans, the company has added a community center and central parkland. D.R. Horton officials described the architecture along El Camino Real as contemporary, with stucco walls, terraces and an open metal framework. The homes along the interior streets possessed a more "traditional neighborhood" feel, they said.

The public will be allowed to comment on the project at an upcoming Director's Hearing. Ultimately the project will require the City Council's approval.

-- Jocelyn Dong

Police building proposals sought

The city will seek proposals from private developers interested in constructing its new police headquarters, the Palo Alto City Council voted Monday night. Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto was the sole vote against the idea. Before moving forward, she wanted the council to prioritize all of the city's upcoming major capital projects, which also includes a potential new main library and a planned rebuild of the city's Municipal Services Center.

"The council hasn't made the decision that that (the police building) is going to be our priority," Kishimoto said of the police headquarters rebuild.

Other council members said that project needed to be at the top of the city's list, and sounded surprised Kishimoto might believe otherwise.

"The reality is that this city cannot function without a police building that enables the police to operate and right now we are in such bad shape," Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said.

Under the proposed plan, the developer would build the facility on private land -- or on a combination of private and public land -- and then sell it to the city

The city has been, for years, studying how to rebuild the Police Department's headquarters. Earlier this year, officials believed the only viable option was to reconstruct it on the same site as the current facility, across from the Downtown Library on Forest Avenue.

But then in May, local real estate developer Chop Keenan offered to build new 60,000-square-foot headquarters on Gilman Street, on a combination of his land and city-owned land, a few blocks away from the current headquarters.

City officials are optimistic about that proposal, for a number of reasons. They say it would save the cost of having to relocate the current headquarters during the construction. Plus, Keenan could probably build the facility cheaper than the city could, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts said.

Before accepting Keenan's proposal, estimated to cost $40 to $45 million, the city decided to see if there were any other developers interested in offering similar deals. Staff will seek such proposals in the next month and return to the council in November.

However, neighbors of the proposed Gilman Street project are already opposed to it. Resident Kevin Ball said Gilman Street is a leafy, quiet road and said he and his neighbors were worried about the noise and traffic that a relocated police headquarters would bring.

Also complicating that specific project is the news that Keenan told the council, via a letter, that he would withdraw his proposal if the city started charging a business license tax. Such a fee is one of the few options the city is studying for paying for the new facility.

Palo Alto is one of the few California cities without the tax. The council's Finance Committee is scheduled to review a new business license tax at its Sept. 20 meeting.

-- Bill D'Agostino

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