Uploaded: Tue, Aug 20, 2013, 9:38 am
Housing advocates, zoning critics clash in Maybell debate
Both sides submit arguments for the Palo Alto Nov. 5 referendum
Depending on whom you ask, the bitter debate over a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue is either a battle over affordable housing for low-income seniors or a citizen struggle to stop a zoning process gone awry.
Both arguments are presented in the official ballot arguments submitted Friday by supporters and opponents of 567 Maybell Ave., a development that includes a 60-unit apartment complex for seniors and 12 single-family homes. While the former maintain in their argument that the project is a battle over affordable housing, a much needed amenity in Palo Alto, the latter frame the issue in terms of zoning and argue that the Maybell project is merely the latest attempt by the City Council to encourage dense developments despite residents' wishes.
The project, which is being developed by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, spurred a wave of outrage in Barron Park, Green Acres and Green Acres II neighborhoods when the council approved a zone change in June to enable its construction. The "planned community" zone would allow the Housing Corporation to exceed density requirements in exchange for negotiated "public benefits." Residents reacted by circulating a petition that received more than enough votes to bring the project to a referendum on Nov. 5.
In this case, the public benefit is affordable housing for seniors, a valuable commodity in a city where both housing prices and the senior population are rapidly rising. The council, in unanimously approving the project, agreed that this "planned community" development is appropriate because it provides a critical benefit. Proponents of Measure D, which would uphold the council's approval, make the same point in their official argument, which focuses on the product rather than the process. They note that nearly 20 percent of Palo Alto seniors are living near or below the poverty line according to the Council on Aging of Silicon Valley.
"Palo Alto's seniors deserve a high quality, safe and affordable place to live," the argument in favor of the project states. "But over the last 10 years, housing costs have doubled, making it increasingly difficult for Palo Alto residents on fixed incomes to remain in our community and live close to their children and grandchildren after they retire."
The argument in favor of Measure D also states that the development would have "minimal impact on the surrounding neighborhood, traffic and schools."
The pro-Measure D argument is signed by Mary Alice Thornton, president of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto; Ray Bacchetti, a trustee at the Channing House Senior Residence; Lynnie Melena, past president of the Barron Park Association; Robert Neff, chair of the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee; and Councilwoman Liz Kniss, the only council member to sign either argument.
For opponents, however, the referendum isn't about senior housing. Rather, it's about protecting residential neighborhoods from the types of high-density projects that have been popping up throughout the city in recent years. The argument cites as examples Alma Village (formerly Alma Plaza); the new Lytton Gateway on Lytton Avenue and Alma Street; the Arbor Real townhouse development on El Camino Real; and the hotel currently being built on the Palo Alto Bowl site. The referendum, from their point of view, is a message to the council that this trend has to stop.
"City Council has approved development after development with inadequate regard for the impact on existing infrastructure and residents even after hearing residents concerns," the anti-Measure D argument states. "Send City Council a message Palo Altans want the City to stop approving high density developments throughout Palo Alto that irreversibly change our quality of life."
The argument emphasizes that opponents of the council's decision do support affordable senior housing on the Maybell parcel, but only "within current zoning." The "planned community" zone, they note, would allow 12 single-family homes, five of which would be three-story homes that opponents argue would be "completely out of scale with nearby residences."
"We oppose Planned Community zoning that removes site regulations protecting residential neighborhoods resulting in projects with inadequate parking, reduced safety, excessive height, loss of setbacks, and increased traffic congestion throughout town," the argument states.
The argument against Measure D is signed by former Councilwoman Emily Renzel; Tim Gray, former candidate for the council who chairs the newly formed nonprofit Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning; Cheryl Lilienstein, a Green Acres resident who helped spearhead the signature drive; Downtown North resident Neilson Buchanan; and former planning Commissioner Joseph Hirsch.
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere,
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm
Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.
If you're concerned about traffic on Maybell, or crowding of the schools, or too many people living at that site, then you should vote YES on D, even though these are arguments from the "no" camp.
Unfortunately, the opponents' passion seems rarely matched by reason and accuracy, and some of their faulty logic is supported by incorrect language in the news articles. Specifically, articles have characterized the lot under current zoning as being fillable by houses, but apartments is what would really go in the larger portion. So when opponents say that many _houses_ couldn't fit on the site, that may be true, but it ignores that _apartments_ could easily provide all the units.
The larger 1.84 acre portion of the Maybell/Clemo site is zoned RM-15, which means 15 "units" per acre of multifamily residential. Multifamily means apartments. So on that part of the site alone, 1.84 acres * 15 units/acre = 27 units (up to 37 if a certain percentage are low income). Applying the existing zoning to that site, with a bit of rudimentary geometry & math, shows that it is imminently doable to fit 27 appartments within the allowed area. Further, the allowable total floor area is 40,075 sq.ft., divided by 27 units gives 1,484 sq.ft. per apartment (including common areas), which is comparable to my house of 1,500 sq.ft. (including the garage) with 3.5 bedrooms.
So what do you think will generate more traffic: 60 tiny one-bedroom apartments for low-income seniors, or 27 large three- or four-bedroom apartments for families?
Not all "units" are created equal. Zoning refers to housing "units", not bedrooms, which is a more accurate barrometer of how many people might actually live in a home. So a tiny 600 sq.ft, 1-bedroom apartment is called a "unit", but so is a large, 1,400 sq.ft 4-bedroom apartment. The PAHC proposal permitted by Measure D will have 61 bedrooms in the senior unit, combined with 12 houses at ~3.5 bedrooms each give about 103 bedrooms in the PAHC proposal. Under existing zoning, the two sites can accomodate 34-45 units, so let's conservatively say 34 units at 3.5 bedrooms, that's 119 bedrooms, or 16% more bedrooms under current zoning, than what would be allowed by measure D.
Something else to rebutt: We keep getting this notion, from an anonymous poster, that the city, with its first right of refusal, at the defeat of measure D should then purchase the property, restrict its development potential (essentially down-zoning it from current zoning) and resell it. Such restrictions would reduce the value of the land, so the city would lose millions of dollars in such a transaction. Would the citizens of this town appreciate the city losing money on a real-estate transaction in this manner, just so the opponents can foist the housing "burden" onto other neighborhoods? I think not.
Project opponents who complain about its impact should objectively consider what the current zoning permits, and if they win by defeating measure D, they are likely to be dissapointed in the outcome.
If we could stick to reality, to accuracy, and post under real names instead of making unsubstantiated anonymous claims, perhaps we can have a truly informative debate in this town, and better serve the voting public and the city as a whole.
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere,
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:13 pm
Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.
If I recall correctly, the last time my property was appraised, within the last year, it came out to about $1.2M. The four ranch houses on the site look to be on lots very close in size to my own, so I don't see how you can claim that their value would "easily" be worth between 50% to 100% more than my own.
I'm curious to know what within my application of the existing zoning to the existing site, you find to be a "hypothetical, and frankly ridiculous scenario". One can find the zoning details for RM 15 here: Web Link and, more concisely and to the point, this table Web Link which applies to section 18-13-040. The dimensions of the lots in question can be found on the santa clara county assessors map, downloaded in pdf from Web Link. My calculations pertain to lot #109, which is listed to be 1.84 acres == 80,150.4 sq.ft.
RM-15 zoning permits 35% of the site to be covered, so 80150.4 * 0.35 = 28,052.64 sq.ft. is the buildable area, which easily fits within the setbacks and daylight plane envelope.
Within that footprint, the building may be up to 35', which easily accomodates 3 stories.
RM-15 has a maximum floor area ration (FAR) of 0.5:1, which means that the maximum floor area of livable space of the building must be no more than half as large as the area of the site in question. so 80150.4 * 0.5 = 40,075.2 sq.ft. maximum building area (larger than the building footprint because it can be multi-story).
RM-15 permits 15 units per acre, so 1.84 acres * 15 units/acre = 27.6, which I round down to 27.
Maximum permitted area of building divided by maximum number of units (not including low-income density bonus): 40,075.2 / 27 = 1,484.27 sq.ft. average per "unit", including any common areas like hallways or elevators, to reach the units from within the building.
Given that my home is about 1,500 sq.ft, including the garage, and has 3.5 bedrooms, and that if one were building an apartment, it is unlikely that a 2-car garage worth of area would be needed for hallways to each unit, it is easy to see the private area of the apartment being comparable in size to my home, with an equivalent number of bedrooms.
So, what, concisely and without a lot of bluster, is "frankly ridiculous" about that simple math? What I find ridiculous is that you persist in repeating provably false statements, over and over and at great length, leading to an irrational, irresponsible, and costly election, which, should Measure D fail will likely leading to a worse state of affairs for the neighborhood and the city (more development, people, and traffic in the neighborhood, less affordable housing for the city).
Regarding the election, note that the petition leaders, after collection signatures to force an election, then have the gall of blaming the city for paying for said election. [Portion removed.]
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