BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent
More than 10 years after a popular Mexican restaurant on El Camino Real in Palo Alto abruptly shut down, the Palo Alto City Council last night (Aug. 5) approved plans for a 17-unit housing project at the site.
The plans are for the former site of Compadres Bar and Grill at 3877 El Camino Real, near the corner of Curtner Avenue in the city’s Ventura neighborhood. The project includes a three-story building facing El Camino, which would have retail on the first floor, retail or offices on the second floor, and six residential “flats” on the third level.
Eleven townhouses would be built on the remainder of the site — two-bedroom, two-story units that would be grouped in four duplexes and one triplex. The housing units in the project would be for sale, and two units would be available at below-market rate.
The City Council approved last night a final subdivision map for the project, which would allow separate ownership of 18 units: the 11 townhouses, the six flats and the commercial space.
The council approved the overall project in September 2017. Last night’s vote on the final subdivision map was on the council’s consent agenda, where several items are voted on at the same time without debate, unless a council member asks to remove an item for discussion.
The 5,860-square-foot former restaurant building has been vacant since Compadre’s abruptly shut down in September 2008 after 23 years in business. The restaurant was known for its margaritas and chips and salsa, and gave Stanford students a discount.
Since then, the empty building has become a draw for vagrants. For example, police in February 2016 found three squatters inside the former restaurant, and said at the time that they suspected people had been staying there for awhile.
The situation became more serious in November, when a man whom police believe was illegally squatting in the restaurant set fire to the building. The man, 37-year-old Osvaldo Madrigal of Menlo Park, was sentenced in March to two years in state prison for two counts of arson and a probation violation. On the same day that he torched the former Compadre’s building, Madrigal also set on fire a 2016 Jeep Wrangler in the 400 block of Curtner Ave.
The former restaurant building has become an eyesore, with boarded up windows facing El Camino Real in recent months and roof tiles in disarray.
“The building itself has been vacant for a number of years, has become a derelict of a building, an eyesore which has attracted vagrants, which have been difficult to keep out of the building,” Mark Wommack with EID Architects, the architect for the site’s redevelopment, told the City Council in September 2017.
Plans for redeveloping the site were submitted to the city in 2014. One issue that came up during the review process was whether the building has historic significance. A historic resources evaluation found that although part of the building dates back to 1938, the structure has been substantially modified since then “and retains very little architectural character of the original building,” according to a report to the City Council in September 2017.
The proposal calls for an underground garage with 62 parking spaces, slightly more parking than what the city requires. Cars would be able to enter or exit the garage using a driveway from Curtner Avenue; a driveway allowing entrance only is planned from El Camino Real.
To meet the city’s requirement for 15% of the units to be below-market rate, one townhouse and one of the “flats” would be below-market units. Since 15% of 17 units works out to 2.55 below-market-rate units, the developer will also pay into a housing fund to cover the fraction of a unit.
In approving the project in 2017, the council added a requirement that the ground floor of the mixed-use building be used for retail or retail-like purposes, such as a yoga studio.
That was a really fun place.