Residents push back on housing project at Creekside Inn site | New
A developer’s plan to replace Creekside Inn with 382 apartments presents Palo Alto with a rare opportunity to merge parcels and bring a major housing complex to a large site along El Camino Real.
But for neighborhood residents, the project represents something else: a massive span that would threaten Matadero Creek, increase traffic, upset existing zoning and reduce retail in their neighborhood. These and other concerns were voiced at Tuesday’s meeting of the Barron Park Association, which received an update from city staff on the largest project currently underway in the Barron Park development pipeline. the city.
The project on a 3.6-acre site at 3400 El Camino Real is set for initial consideration by city council on September 19. It builds on the “Planned Domestic Zoning” (PHZ) designation, which allows developers to go beyond typical zoning rules and development standards and gives council broad discretion to deny projects or require reviews. .
Although the Creekside Inn proposal is part of a wave of “planned home zoning” projects currently being planned in Palo Alto, staff acknowledged that it stands out for its size. City planner Garrett Sauls noted that most lots along El Camino and other major corridors are too small to accommodate so much housing.
“It’s really exciting to see a project of this magnitude proposed anywhere in the city,” Sauls said. “We don’t have a lot of plots that can accommodate to some degree, well or not well, a development that looks like this.”
The proposal comes at a time when the city is actively exploring ways to encourage housing and meet a state mandate that requires it to plan for 6,086 new homes between 2023 and 2031. The council will consider strategies to spur the residential construction this Monday, August 22. , when he reviews the city’s newest housing element.
Planned Home Zoning (PHZ) schemes, which provide flexibility to developers, should be an important part of the solution. Earlier this week, council members gave generally positive reviews to another PHZ project: a 75-condominium development at 788 San Antonio Road. Another PHZ project has recently been proposed for the Country Inn Motel site at 4345 El Camino. This development will include 55 condominiums, six townhouses and six secondary suites, according to project plans.
Jodie Gerhardt, Palo Alto’s current planning officer, observed at Tuesday’s meeting that the city is now seeing more housing proposals and these tend to be larger than in the past.
“Fifty units was a huge project in Palo Alto, but more last year,” Gerhardt said. “We see some pretty big projects going on El Camino Real and we have some big projects going along San Antonio as well.”
The Creekside Inn proposal, as the largest of them, could face the biggest hurdles to approval. The plan calls for two buildings, one with 312 apartments and two levels of underground parking and another with 66 apartments. Both are said to be 64 feet tall, exceeding the city’s 50-foot height limit. The buildings currently housing Cibo Restaurant & Bar and Driftwood Deli & Market would both be demolished, although the new development includes 4,000 retail spaces and the developer is giving Driftwood an opportunity to occupy this space.
While some residents said they would be fine with seeing housing on the site, most agreed that the project is trying to do too much. Mircea Voskerician, who lives near the project site, said the proposal was “beyond anything reasonable”. The project, he argued, is too high, too close to single-family residences and would require the removal of too many mature trees.
“He was absolutely dead on arrival,” Voskerician said. “It’s wishful thinking to think about what he’s trying to do here.”
Cheryl Lilienstein was among the residents who said they would oppose the rezoning of the site. Currently, the three parcels are zoned, respectively, for commercial, hotel and multi-family residential use, allowing up to 20 units per acre. The proposal would raise the residential density on the merged lots to 106 units per acre. If the developer wants to build housing, they must do so within existing zoning, she said.
“Most people in my neighborhood are shocked to see something so big,” Lilienstein said.
Others lamented the loss of retail business that would result if the housing proposal progresses. The two buildings that make up Cibo and Driftwood total approximately 8,735 square feet of retail space. Under the redevelopment proposal, retail would be reduced to less than half.
“Anything we’re planning has to include keeping Driftwood Market on a lease longer than two years so we don’t lose a business, so we don’t lose a place where we can get milk,” resident Rob O said. Connor. “Because there is no place we can walk to.”
But Samir Tuma, a former planning commissioner, hailed the project for bringing much-needed housing to Palo Alto. The city, he said, has done “an abysmal job over the decades building housing.” Even though many elements of the project would need to be changed, the high number of housing the project would provide for the local workforce is an important benefit, he said.
“I implore my neighbors to keep an open mind as to how we can shape this and shape this so that it can benefit the community but also live up to our moral obligation to provide housing,” he said. he declared.
The representatives of the applicant, Oxford Capital Group, did not attend the meeting. The developer, however, argued in the application that the rezoning is necessary to facilitate “a unique vision that maximizes residential potential, respects Matadero Creek, and provides substantial public benefit, which would otherwise not be achievable under zoning.” existing”.
“These are a deviation from the underlying zoning, but they are necessary for the complete overhaul of the property,” wrote Ted O’Hanlon, the council’s project manager, in a letter accompanying the application. .