BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The East Palo Alto Planning Commission yesterday (June 8) opined on a developer’s proposal for the long-vacant lot at Bay Road and University Avenue that will include an eight-story building.
Peter Pau’s Sand Hill Property Co. wants to build 180 apartments, 500,000-square-feet of the lab and life science offices, a new city library and 20,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space.
Commissioners Ofelia Bello and Javanni Brown-Austin questioned why Sand Hill decided to include life sciences space in the project.
Sand Hill Managing Director Mike Kramer said that he and others on the development team have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that a number of East Palo Alto residents have experience in the life sciences and medical lab fields.
Commissioner Robert Allen Fisk added that for a decade or so, he worked in a lab.
Bello said she doesn’t doubt Kramer’s anecdotal information suggesting that East Palo Alto residents could find work in the life sciences industry. But she asked he get data on how residents are employed, saying that she’s uncomfortable making decisions on such a large project with just anecdotal information.
Bello pointed out that this development is the last opportunity for the city to properly develop.
One concern brought up by commissioner Fisk is that the eight-story life sciences building will border the single-family neighborhood on Michigan Avenue.
Throughout the meeting, Kramer pointed out that the project could change, especially since Sand Hill has to work with the city and county on the new library.
Kramer said that after hearing a March presentation to the city council by the county’s library system, which operates the branch in city hall across the street at 2415 University, they got the idea to build a new library at their site.
However, how that would happen still is to be determined.
This is the second project in the area where a developer is proposing to build a new library for the community. In Menlo Park, Facebook is in talks with the city to rebuild the Onetta Harris Center in the Belle Haven neighborhood and to include a library in the rebuild.
The Bay and University site was once home to the University Village Shopping Center, built in 1957.
In the early 70s, the shopping center’s name was changed to Nairobi Shopping Center. Most of the shopping center burned down in the late 80s and was condemned by the county in 1989.
The property has sat vacant since.
In May 2006, developer Barry Swenson bought the property for $6.5 million, and discussed building high-density housing on the site, but nothing ever materialized.
In a letter to the city’s Planning Department outlining its preliminary plans for the site, Sand Hill managers say they decided to buy it after hearing many residents complain about the empty property. Sand Hill bought the property in November for $42 million.
No formal decisions or actions were made by the Planning Commission last night. That’s because no application has been submitted to the city.
Last night’s hearing was so Sand Hill could hear feedback on the project before giving the city its final plans, which will likely happen later this year.
Sand Hill is hosting an ongoing community meeting online that continues through June 19 at universityandbay.com. At that website, people can watch a presentation on the project, look at some of the preliminary plans and give Sand Hill their opinion.