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Bay Area Silicon Valley - Mid Penninsula Market Activity and Trends

By Samia Cullen | Agent in Palo Alto, CA
  • Voters to have say in massive Palo Alto project

    Posted Under: Shopping & Local Amenities in Palo Alto, Parks & Recreation in Palo Alto, In My Neighborhood in Palo Alto  |  September 22, 2012 7:06 AM  |  356 views  |  No comments

    By Jason Green

    Daily News Staff Writer

    Posted:   09/22/2012 12:53:17 AM PDT

    Updated:   09/22/2012 01:07:22 AM PDT


    Palo Alto voters could be asked as soon as next March to pave the way for a sweeping mixed-use development that would dramatically transform the area between the University Avenue Caltrain station and El Camino Real into an "Arts and Innovation District."

    Developer-turned-philanthropist John Arrillaga and the city have crafted a master plan that calls for four mixed-use office buildings totaling 263,000 square feet, a 70,000-square-foot performing arts center, a three-level underground garage, relocation and expansion of the Intermodal Transit Center, and better bicycle and pedestrian connections between the city and Stanford University.

    "This project represents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the centrally located transitional area between Downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University, a prominent part of town where decades of plans have engendered little change," the city's current planning manager, Amy French, wrote in a report the city council is scheduled to discuss Monday.

    Ranging in height from six to 10 stories, the four mixed-use office buildings would exceed the city's 50-foot height limit on new development. The master plan would also require a land swap at El Camino Park. For those reasons, city staff is recommending council members place a measure on the March 2013 ballot that would essentially permit the creation of a custom district.

    The buildings would be arranged in pairs, with one set facing University Avenue and the other facing a new theater complex. Each pair would be linked by a pedestrian bridge.


    Altogether, they would provide "world-class" headquarters space for companies on par with Facebook and Google, according to the report.

    "The goal of the mixed use office buildings is for them to be designed as prominent, carefully constructed, contemporary office space to house premier Silicon Valley technology companies in Palo Alto, advancing Palo Alto's reputation as a global center of technology and innovation," French wrote.

    Meanwhile, the performing arts center Arrillaga is offering to partially construct would bring TheatreWorks back to Palo Alto. The theater company, the third largest in the Bay Area, has accepted the offer, according to the report.

    The master plan builds on earlier efforts to encourage usage of the Intermodal Transit Center and expand "cultural opportunities" for the communities of Palo Alto and Stanford, according to the report.

    Arrillaga approached the city in 2011 with the initial idea of constructing a single office building at 27 University Ave. In March, the city council authorized spending $250,000 on preliminary design and environmental reviews of a project that also included a new theater as well as improved pedestrian and bicycle connections. The money came out of a $2.25 million fund Stanford paid the city in exchange for permission to overhaul and expand its medical facilities.

    The effort ultimately resulted in the much larger master plan currently before council members. More work remains to be done, and the city council will be asked to spend another $286,000 on Monday.

    According to French's report, the various transportation agencies that operate out of the Intermodal Transit Center have embraced the master plan. The busy hub would shift south and gain 17 stops for a total of 35.

    Stanford, which owns most of the land, expressed support for the proposal in a Sept. 18 letter to the city council.

    "John Arrillaga is an extraordinary, generous philanthropist who has provided great benefits to the University, as well as other local community projects," wrote Jean McCown, a former Palo Alto mayor who works in the university's Office of Government and Community Relations.

    "Stanford is pleased that the City of Palo Alto will be giving this proposal its thoughtful and constructive consideration."

  • Four office buildings, theater planned for downtown Palo Alto

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Palo Alto, Parks & Recreation in Palo Alto, In My Neighborhood in Palo Alto  |  September 20, 2012 11:42 AM  |  402 views  |  No comments
     

    City partners with developer John Arrillaga on new plan to transform site near downtown Caltrain station


    Courtesy of palo alto weekly
    by Gennady Sheyner 
    Palo Alto Weekly Staff

    The City of Palo Alto and billionaire philanthropist John Arrillaga are pushing forward a sweeping development plan that would add a complex of four office towers, including one 10 stories in height, and a new theater to one of the most central areas of downtown.


    The project, which would transform the area around the downtown Caltrain station, is so ambitious in scope that the city is now considering bringing it to the voters in spring of 2013, according to a report the city released late Wednesday, Sept. 19.

    The city and Arrillaga have been discussing the project at 27 University Ave. since early 2011, but details didn't emerge until late Wednesday, when the city released a report outlining some of the details. The site currently houses the MacArthur Park restaurant, which would have to be relocated to accommodate the new plan.

    The City Council is scheduled to consider the plan and the proposal to send it to the voters at its meeting Monday night, Sept. 24. But Arrillaga's development proposal already seems to have won over the city's planning staff, who describe it in a new report as "an unprecedented opportunity to transform the centrally located, transitional area between Downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University, a prominent part of town where decades of plans have engendered little change."

    "The Project is propelled by an extraordinary public-private partnership involving several parties, which would allow goals that have been pursued for many years to be realized," Current Planning Manager Amy French wrote in a report, which was approved by Planning Director Curtis Williams and City Manager James Keene.

    These goals include improvements to the busy Intermodal Transit Center, better links between downtown, Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford University and Stanford Hospital, and a new performing-arts theater, which would likely serve as a new home for TheatreWorks.

    Aside from the project's massive scope, the proposal is also unusual in its blurring of the line between public and private. Two members of the city's land-use boards, former Planning and Transportation Commissioner Daniel Garber and former Architectural Review Board member Heather Young, resigned earlier this year to work on the Arrillaga proposal. And the city plans to approve on Monday a series of architectural, urban-design and environmental contracts for work on 27 University Ave. The council had already approved $250,000 for design work on this project in March. Now, the staff is proposing spending another $286,000 on four contracts, the largest of which would be a $139,500 contract with Fukuji Planning and Design.

    The money would come from a $2.25 million fund that the Stanford University Medical Center provided as part of a deal with the city that allowed the medical center to vastly expand its medical facilities.

    In recent months, designers and architects have come up with an urban design plan that seeks to, among other things, create a new, highly visible "Arts and Innovation District" between the Caltrain station and El Camino Real; to create a permanent home for TheatreWorks, which currently performs out of Lucie Stern Community Center and the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.

    But the most dramatic and potentially controversial aspect in the new plan is the four office towers, which would be organized in two pairs with each pair connected by multi-story bridges. The tallest would be 10-stories tall. The commercial complex would also include nine-, seven- and six-story buildings. The floor area of the new office space would be 263,000 square feet.

    The city currently has at least four buildings taller than 10 stories, including the condominium building at 101 Alma St., the office building at 525 University Ave., the Channing House and Forest Towers at 510 Forest Ave. The proposed offices, much like these buildings, would far exceed the city's 50-foot height limit for new developments.

    "The goal of the mixed-use office buildings is for them to be designed as prominent, carefully constructed, contemporary office space to house premier Silicon Valley technology companies in Palo Alto, advancing Palo Alto's reputation as a global center of technology and innovation," the new staff report states.

    While the proposal is still in its early phase, it has already received support from Stanford University, a major benefactor of Arrillaga's philanthropy and owner of the land on which the developments would be built. In a letter to the city, Stanford's Director for Community Relations Jean McCown wrote that while the university has not been involved in the development, "it supports the exploration of this concept among Mr. Arrillaga, TheatreWorks and the City of Palo Alto."

    "John Arrillaga is an extraordinary, generous philanthropist who has provided great benefits to the University, as well as other local community projects," wrote McCown, a former Palo Alto mayor. "Stanford is pleased that the City of Palo Alto will be giving this proposal its thoughtful and constructive consideration."

  • Palo Alto approves downtown 'Gateway' building

    Posted Under: Parks & Recreation in Palo Alto, In My Neighborhood in Palo Alto  |  May 15, 2012 10:47 AM  |  269 views  |  No comments


    Downtown Palo Alto will soon have a prominent new "gateway" building next to the Caltrain station, though the glassy development won't be as tall or ambitious as the one originally proposed.

    The City Council voted 7-2 early Tuesday morning, with Councilman Greg Schmid and Councilwoman Karen Holman dissenting, to approve a zone change for Lytton Gateway, a four-story building at the corner of Lytton and Alma streets that would include offices on the top three stories and space for retail and a nonprofit group on the ground floor. The vote followed months of negotiations between the applicants, Lytton Gateway LLC, and Palo Alto's planning commission and council members. During that time, the project was scaled down from five stories to four and the developer was asked to scrap the plan to include 14 affordable-housing units in the project and to provide space for retail at below market rate.

    Once built, the project will transform a site that was once occupied by a Shell gas station and become the most prominent example of the city's recent push toward transit-oriented development, a key tenet of New Urbanism. The building at 355 Alma St., would be 50 feet tall and would include a corner tower about 70 feet in height. The council agreed with the applicants' assertion that the building's location near a major transit hub justifies its large size and high density. 

    "There are certain locations where you do need mass to create anchors and scale for public spaces and for the community to use those spaces," said Jim Baer, a developer who is a member of the application team (along with Lund Smith, Boyd Smith and Scott Foster).

    Lund Smith called the project "progressive" and said it is "an example of what an urban development can provide."

    But the project met a mixed reaction from speakers at the meeting, with some lauding it as perfect for its location and others arguing that the new building would further exacerbate the parking problems in the adjacent Downtown North neighborhood.

    Michael Griffin, a former planning commissioner who lives in Downtown North, said he would be willing to support the idea of transit-oriented developments downtown but not if they add to parking congestion. He urged the council to specify in its approval that the developer's fees be used specifically for developing a residential parking program for Downtown North. Tina Peak, who also lives in the neighborhood, was more forceful and urged the council to reject the project altogether.

    "It would add traffic to already crowded streets and put pedestrians and bicyclists at more risk on Alma Street," Peak said.

    Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach took her criticism a step further and lambasted the entire "planned community" zone process, which allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated "public benefits." The benefits offered by developers to get zoning exemptions can hardly be considered such, she argued. She cited the developers' proposal for ground-floor retail space, which they earlier said could include a financial-services provider such as a bank.

    "There's no one in this town who really thinks that a bank is a public benefit in exchange for this hugely dense, tall building," Dellenbach said.

    Others downplayed the parking problem and asked the council to green-light the development. Irwin David, who lives nearby on Alma, said it's time for Palo Alto to start charging for parking. Steve Langdon, who also lives downtown, stressed that downtown parking spaces are public and should not be restricted to neighborhood residents through a parking program. To do so, he said, would unfairly punish downtown workers.

    "The streets in our neighborhood aren't deeded to anyone," Langdon said. "They're public. They're adjacent to a commercial area, which everyone in the neighborhood benefits from."

    But the council sided with the Downtown North residents and agreed that parking is a major problem that needs to be addressed. Council members accepted Vice Mayor Greg Scharff's proposal to take some of the funds that were pegged for the city's affordable-housing fund and to use them for parking improvements. The agreement the council approved includes close to $2 million for future parking improvements such as a new garage. Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said a new garage would cost between $5 million and $10 million, depending on the location.

    Scharff praised the package of public benefits and said that the building itself can be considered a benefit.

    "I think this is a prime site and having an office building -- a Gateway project -- is itself a public benefit," Scharff said.

    Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd shared his view and lauded the project's design. She said she considers the building itself a contributor to the public-benefit package.

    The council's approval followed more than five hours of wrangling over details, with numerous motions and amendments dealing with everything from the nature of ground-floor retail and the amount of money the applicants should contribute. The approval included Holman's suggestion that the developers subsidize the building's below-market-rate component for nonprofit office space for the lifetime of the project rather than for 10 years, as was initially proposed. It also included Scharff's proposed provision that the retail portion be restricted to such businesses as restaurants and coffee shops -- not banks.

    Holman ultimately voted against the project, saying she doesn't consider the corner of Alma and Lytton a real "gateway site." But all her colleagues with the exception of Schmid praised downtown's newest development.

    "This is an exciting and appropriate building for this site," Councilman Sid Espinosa said. "I'm excited to see this become a reality. This is a great day for Palo Alto."

    Courtesy of Palo alto Online
 
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