A vacant Palo Alto parking lot on the prominent intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road would make way for a four-story commercial building under a new proposal from the company that has recently purchased the site from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).
The proposal by Pollock Financial Group of Portola Valley is the latest in a recent wave of large office developments targeting Palo Alto. The application has come in less than a year since the City Council approved a similar project at the intersection of Lytton Avenue and Alma Street and at a time when the council is wrestling with two much larger office proposals for 27 University Ave. and 395 Page Mill Road.
The Pollock project, which the council is scheduled to discuss Monday evening, targets a site that for decades has served as a surface parking lot for VTA's bus riders. The agency placed the site on the market about two years ago and recently chose Pollock as the buyer. The developer is looking to build a four-story building with a three-level underground parking garage.
For this vision to become reality, the city would have to rezone the site to a "planned community" zone -- a designation that allows developers to exceed existing density and height regulations in exchange for "public benefits." Under Pollock's proposal, these benefits would include the widening of Page Mill Road to create a dedicated right-turn lane onto El Camino Real; the dedication of the widened portion of Page Mill to the city; an upgrade to the pedestrian tunnel under El Camino Real, near the Mayfield Soccer Complex; and a contribution of $750,000 toward upgrading the lights on the soon-to-be-renovated commercial stretch of California Avenue.
The applicant has also offered to widen sidewalks beyond the minimum design standards for El Camino and to purchase Eco passes and Caltrain passes for all employees at the site for 10 years. In the application, Pollock also argues that the project itself is a benefit that would "further advance Palo Alto as a regional and national leader."
The council's discussion on Monday will be a study session, which means that there will be no votes or decisions made. The developer will have a chance to introduce the project to the council while city officials will offer their thoughts on whether the project is suitable for the site and on the kind of benefits the applicant should offer to get the needed zoning exceptions.
If approved, the project will add to the ongoing commercialization of its surrounding area. The colossal Jay Paul proposal on Park Boulevard and Page Mill Road aims to bring 311,000 square feet of new commercial space near the existing AOL building on Page Mill. At the same time, the council plans to rezone a residential island of four homes on the 400 block of Page Mill (about half a block away from the VTA site) to allow commercial use. The site is expected to ultimately house a multi-story mixed-use building designed by local architect John Northway. The Planning and Transportation Commission has already discussed the rezoning proposal and has recommended making the change.
Though the Pollock project has yet to undergo a public review, it has already generated opposition from one neighbor. Jeffrey Morris, manager of Morris Page Mill (MPM), the owner an adjacent parcel at 2701 Page Mill, wrote in a public letter that his company and the residents of the Sunrise Assistant Living Facility, which occupies the parcel, have "strong objections" and plan to oppose to the Pollock proposal. The project, the letter claims, is too dense and is incompatible with the neighborhood. Namely, it would diminish the residents' views, add traffic congestion and "impose an unreasonable burden on the residents of the Sunrise facility," Morris wrote.
"Sunrise and its residents understand there has always been a possibility that the VTA parcel would be redeveloped, but they have nevertheless become accustomed to the VTA Parcel's current use," the letter states. "Regardless, Sunrise and its residents have a reasonable expectation that any redevelopment of the VTA Parcel will be compatible with the neighborhood, and like MPM they have strong objections to an oversized, commercial office project that is wholly incompatible and imposes substantial burdens on their use and occupancy."