Proposal would exceed height limit but result in more housing

An illustration of a proposal for 2951 El Camino Real in Palo Alto that was submitted to the city by Acclaim Companies.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto could get 119 units of housing along El Camino Real, but the city is being asked to allow a building near residential homes at nearly twice the current height limit.

City Council tonight (Oct. 5) had a study session about a mixed-use complex that Acclaim Companies of Menlo Park wants to build at 2951 El Camino, a block south of Oregon Expressway/Page Mill Road.

The purpose of tonight’s meeting was to get initial feedback from the council about the concept of the project. The project still has to go before the Planning and Transportation Commission and the Architectural Review Board before it comes to the council for formal approval.

The development would have 21 studio, 66 one-bedroom and 32 two-bedroom apartments.

It would include 5,000 square feet of office space, which would replace an existing office building and 1,000 square feet of retail. It wouldn’t add any jobs to the city, according to a memo from City Manager Ed Shikada.

The project would include 24 below market rate units aimed at people who make 80% of the area median income, meaning a family of four making $112,150 could apply.

Gary Johnson

Developer Gary Johnson said the below-market-rate units will be integrated with the rest of the units and will have all the same amenities. He said the retail will include a deli or coffee shop.

Some neighbors close to the project weren’t happy about its height.

The highest point of the building is 65 feet. Since the project is within 150 feet of a single-family, residential neighborhood it should have a height limit of 35 feet.

Although the office space and main lobby will be on El Camino, the project also borders Pepper and Olive Ave. It will require a change to city codes to built.

Anupa Bajwa, who lives at 450 Olive Ave., said the project will block the sun on one side of her home. Matt Bryant on Pepper Avenue also complained that the project will block light from his house and his solar panels.

Council members had mixed opinions on the project.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack said she thinks having two-bedroom apartments are great because they will be good for young families. She said she likes the retail and the project’s proposal to have parking underground to avoid having more cars park on the street. She also said she likes that the low-income units are integrated with the market-rate ones.

Councilwoman Lydia Kou said she doesn’t like that there are still so many “luxury” units.

Councilman Eric Filseth said he would like the city to require a higher percentage of affordable units.

Planning Director Jonathan Lait said the city needs market-rate housing as well as low-income housing in order to meet the city’s state-assigned housing goals. He warned the council that if the city doesn’t meet its target, developers will get more power to push projects through with less review from the city. He said he developers lose interest if they are required to include more than 20% low-income housing.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss said that the city will eventually need to agree to something “different” to get its required housing.

With four seats up for grabs this election, there may be new faces on the council by the time the project comes before the council.

Kniss, who is generally pro-growth, is termed out and Mayor Adrian Fine, an advocate for more housing, has elected not to run again. Councilman Greg Tanaka, who is usually pro-growth, is running for re-election along with Kou, who is on the opposite end of the growth spectrum.

Kniss told the Post she fears the opinions of the sitting body will matter “very little,” depending on the outcome of the election.

1 Comment

  1. Isn’t the idea of limits to, umm, not have things that exceed them? We all get rightfully salty when the orange man flaunts the rules, but now what are we doing here?

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