Six-story building proposed for University Circle; traffic problems will get scrutiny

Illlustration shows University Circle, a development that replaced Whiskey Gulch at Woodland Avenue, University Avenue and Highway 101 in East Palo Alto. Illustration by the project's owner, Columbia Property Trust.

Daily Post Staff Writer

One of the worst traffic backups in the mid-Peninsula is on University Avenue headed toward Highway 101. Cars headed east are backed up by a stoplight just east of San Francisquito Creek at Woodland Avenue.

Now the owner of the University Circle office complex, which includes the Four Seasons Hotel, wants to add a six-story additional building. But before that building is approved, they’ll be required to conduct an environmental impact report that will examine the traffic backups on University Avenue and suggest ways to fix the problem.

The new building has been proposed by Columbia Property Trust, owner of University Circle. It would consist of 180,000 square feet of office space, and is set to be reviewed by the East Palo Alto’s Planning Commission on Monday (April 22).

As part of the project, an environmental impact report will have to be completed, said Assistant City Manager Sean Charpentier. This would involve looking at University Avenue, and seeing if there is anyway to decrease the queuing that can go from the freeway entrance, through the Crescent Park neighborhood, back to Middlefield Road.

Charpentier said he anticipates there will be a “fair amount of scrutiny,” regarding the transportation and traffic aspect of the report, especially along University.

The office building will replace a parking lot, and will host about 450 employees, according to a report from Contract Senior Planner Arthur Henriques and Planning Manager Guido Persicone.

The report is not being worked on yet, nor will it likely be discussed on Monday. As part of a 1991 settlement of a lawsuit between Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and the Crescent Park neighborhood, the new office building cannot be built until December 2023.

The suit was brought in 1987 by Palo Alto, Menlo Park and the Crescent Park neighborhood group against developer Joaquin de Monet and the city of East Palo Alto, according to the Stanford magazine Occasion.

De Monet wanted to build two 275-foot towers that would include movie theaters, offices and retail.

The suit was settled in 1991 but Monet wasn’t able to move forward because his main tenant, Adobe, pulled out. Developer Linda Law took over the project in the late 1990s. She too was sued but eventually was able to build an office and hotel complex that opened in 2005.

Before University Circle was built, the area was known as Whiskey Gulch, which contained businesses and stores.