The Palo Alto City Council gave its unanimous blessing to a proposed commercial development at 390 Lytton Ave. Monday night despite protest from some residents of the Downtown North Neighborhood.
The residents argued that the proposed "public benefits" offered by developer Jim Baer did not outweigh the traffic and parking problems the 18,921-square-foot development would create. With the public benefits, Baer will be allowed to build a project that is 80 percent larger than allowed under existing zoning.
"It reminds me of the Manhattan Indians trading their island for a handful of beads," said Downtown North resident Irv Brenner.
Formerly the site of a gas station, the property at the corner of Lytton and Waverley Street is owned by longtime Palo Alto businessman Leonard Ely, is now home to a parking lot and a vacant, 1,106-square-foot building.
Under existing zoning, the largest building Baer could build on the site is 10,500 square feet. In order to build the larger structure, Baer proposed that the zoning be changed to Planned Community which requires some kind of a public benefit.
"There has to be something special about the development in relation to the site to justify (PC zoning)," explained City Attorney Ariel Calonne.
To qualify for the zoning change, Baer has agreed to fund a traffic study in the area, replace four street trees, provide a 10-foot-wide public passageway to the west of the building, provide a new bus stop, sign and trash can, repair the tree wells on Waverley between University Avenue and Lytton, plant six street trees at an off-site location. He also has agreed to fund a public art project in the form of a frieze above the building's main entrance depicting the history of the automobile.
The traffic study is the most needed benefit, say local residents, who are concerned by the potential increase in the number of trips through their neighborhood and the establishment of a precedent in building size along the Lytton corridor.
"A three-story monolith is much too large for such a small parcel," said Sally-Ann Rudd, a Downtown North resident. "It's an invitation for further development of Lytton Avenue."
The building will be leased by the law firm Townsend & Townsend & Crew. The new building will have an underground parking garage with room for 50 cars even though 74 would be required. Baer has agreed to pay an in-lieu fee of $428,325 or about $17,800 per space for the missing spaces.
Baer must also compensate the city for an easement through parking lot F behind the new building to make his underground garage easily accessible for which he will pay the city a minimum of $106,995.
The project was approved on a 7-0 vote with Council member Gary Fazzino absent. Council member Micki Schneider abstained from voted because she has a business within 300 of the project. Council member Lanie Wheeler said she liked the project because it was "much kinder and gentler" than alternative uses like restaurants which could generate nearly three times the parking needs.
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