Gauging the impact

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

Gauging the impact

Report says proposed project offers greatest economic benefit for city

The environmental impact report on the University Circle redevelopment project concludes that the project will have overall economic benefits for the city but will displace existing businesses and residents, and cause traffic to get worse at nearby intersections.

The EIR explored several alternatives for the University Circle area, including a scaled-down version of the project being proposed, a "main street" alternative--which would retain the current scale and uses of the area--and a residential alternative, and concluded that the project as proposed would have the most economic benefits for the city.

The EIR also looked at two design alternatives for the project, which would place the buildings in different configurations, but with buildings larger than the ones proposed.

The "main street" alternative, which is being championed by some of the present tenants along University Avenue, "does not meet any of the objectives of the project," the EIR concludes.

The most significant "unavoidable" impacts of the project will be increased traffic congestion in the area, the visual impact of the six- and eight-story buildings, and the loss of 102 affordable housing units.

The project will impact several intersections that are already noted for traffic delays: University Avenue-Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto and Middlefield Road-Willow Road, Willow Road-Durham Street and Bayfront Expressway-University Avenue, all in Menlo Park.

The project will also result in the loss of 225,000 square feet of commercial buildings. Twenty-five buildings, according to the report, have some historic value. The area, the EIR explains, was the primary business district for East Palo Alto before it was bisected by the Bayshore Freeway. The district was developed between the 1932 construction of the Bayshore Highway and the 1957 completion of the freeway.

"Although the buildings in the district are small and unpretentious in appearance, they represent what was the town's primary commercial area providing services for local citizens and passing motorists, and a nightlife for those in nearby military installations and 'dry' communities," the EIR states.

Several buildings are potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: 1951-57 University Ave. (rear), 1963-75 University Ave., and 1973 University Ave., all of which were part of the Fisher Research Laboratory, established in 1939.

"The potential historic commercial district is not presently eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, although the district may have some historic significance," the EIR states. "By the year 2000, a majority (i.e., 15 out of 25) of the contributing structures will be 50 years old, and thus may be potentially eligible for listing if the current level of integrity is maintained."

--Don Kazak 

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