News

Demolition and replacement of Brutalist building wins approval

Architectural Review Board endorses Sand Hill's proposal for 2600 El Camino Real

Bulky concrete will give way to glass and limestone just north of the prominent corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road after Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board approved on Thursday a proposal to demolish a six-story Brutalist building and replace it with a glassier four-story structure.

By a 4-0 vote, with Peter Baltay absent, the board voted to approve a plan by Sand Hill Property Company to demolish the six-story Brutalist building at 2600 El Camino Real and build a development with a more modern design and a two-level garage on the site. The new development, like the existing one, will have a floor area of 62,616 square feet.

In applying for the project, Sand Hill argued the new building would allow the city to replace an obsolete 1966 building that does not comply with many zoning codes with a modern, code-compliant commercial development.

The existing building, for example, is 81 feet tall; the new one would fall within the city's 50-foot height limit. The existing one, the letter notes, falls 56 parking spaces below the code requirements; the new one would include 258 parking spots, as required by code.

The new project will also meet the city's landscape and shading requirements, which the existing building does not, the letter states.

The new development has already undergone several revisions to address the board's prior concerns. At its Dec. 15 hearing, several members took issue with the layout of the parking garage and demanded more details about the structure. They also requested that the architect improve the pedestrian pathways between the parking facility and the building.

In response, Sand Hill provided a more detailed plan with a parking structure that, according to Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, “relates to the main building by mirroring some of the similar architectural materials and themes.” This includes white metal panels along the north side of the garage, which faces the offices, and a garage elevator with form and materials “similar as the main building.”

“The proposed changes provide visual and thematic connectivity between the main building and the garage,” a report from Gitelman states.

Board members agreed and praised Sand Hill for addressing their concerns. Wynne Furth, who in the prior meeting urged Sand Hill to make sure that the new offices don't violate the privacy of the residents in an adjacent building that is now under construction by Stanford University, said Thursday that she was satisfied with Sand Hill's response.

City planning staff had determined since the Dec. 15 hearing that there is sufficient distance between the two buildings to ensure privacy and that the architect's use of obscured glass balcony panels would further preserve privacy, according to the staff report.

“I really appreciate the care and thoroughness with which you addressed our concerns,” Furth told project architect Clifford Chang on Thursday.

Board Chair Alexander Lew and board member Robert Gooyer agreed, with Gooyer saying he is “very impressed” with Sand Hill's latest submission. And board member Kyu Kim said that from the “overall standpoint, the revision has addressed the overarching concerns we had.”

“I'd be more than comfortable recommending approval of the project,” Kim said.

The board's vote effectively ensures that the project will proceed. Because the proposal complies with existing zoning, it does not need to be reviewed by either the Planning and Transportation Commission or the City Council, barring an appeal of the decision.

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Hopefully, there won't be any opposition to this. It seems like this would be a good thing for Palo Alto.


12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 16, 2017 at 5:44 pm

OMG! That warty brute A-list pile is UGLY, UGKY, UGLY; and the ARB only approves developments that are uglier than what they replace. Get your blindfolds ready, folks.


66 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

The city shouldn't let any Sand Hill project proceed until they resolve the Edgewood issues.


46 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:28 pm

More neo-googie office park architecture. In 6-8 years when the new wears off, and this trendy architectural fad has faded away, this tarted-up warehouse for tech-workers will look even uglier than the building it is slated to replace.

Another brick in the wall that will eventually line both sides of El Camino for the entire length of Palo Alto.

Why do we even have an ARB? They spend months debating the merits of minor architectural details, while ignoring the uninspired blocky banality of the whole concept. It seems like the ARB's real role in the real-estate development complex is just to mask these uninspired human warehouses with an air of legitimacy, while the developers accumulate enormous wealth converting Palo Alto into LA.


47 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2017 at 9:52 am

The Palo Alto ARB has no taste.


40 people like this
Posted by Don't approve until there is a grocery store at Edgewood
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 17, 2017 at 10:23 am

Don't approve until there is a grocery store at Edgewood is a registered user.

Sand Hill is also the developer of Edgewood Plaza. The City should refuse to approve this and any other of their proposed properties until there is a grocery store at Edgewood.


9 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2017 at 10:43 am

The recent ARB approval of this project was flawed and should be appealed.

The existing 62,000 sf building is legal non-compliant. There are two main areas of non-compliance; 1) the existing 83' high building exceeds the height ordinance by 33 feet, and 2) the existing building has greater than 5,000 sf of office space.

When City revised zoning to CS zone back in 1989, the new CS zoning ordinance allowed the non-conforming features to remain and allowed the non-conforming uses to remodel, improve or replace improvements in accordance with current site development regulations. Current site development regulations only permit a maximum of 5,000 sf of office use on this lot. Any building replacement must comply with the 5,000 maximum office space cap.

The whole purpose of the City rezoning the property was to impose a new set of zoning rules. The City allowed the old building to stay (so as not to cause a hardship on the owner), but the new zoning would eventually require consistency of all properties in the CS zone. Allowing the non-conforming office use to continue in a brand new building is NOT what the ordinance allows and it is inconsistent with the current bias of the City towards allowing more office space.


4 people like this
Posted by Reader Responder
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2017 at 10:59 am

Hey Reader, why don't you think about applying for the ARB or attending the meeting and commenting in person? [Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem Responder
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:02 am

Ahem, stop complaining anonymously and get involved! Go to council and ask that the board be dismantled or join the board yourself. Go to the meetings, write emails, do something other than writing negative comments on paloaltoonline.


2 people like this
Posted by Alternatives?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:21 am

I'd like to see addresses of, or links to photos of, buildings whose style Curmudgeon and Ahem feel are better suited to the area. Saying "No, no, not this." is all well and good, but please show us your suggested alternatives.


24 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:36 am

Annette is a registered user.

Whether or not the design is good is irrelevant in this case b/c it is not possible to separate the merits of any design from the controversy associated with the developer. Will SOMEbody at City Hall please put their foot down, firmly, and tell Sand Hill Property Company that the City of Palo Alto will not entertain any new proposals from them until the Edgewood issue is resolved? It seems to me that our City Manager or Mayor or Planning Director should be able to get that point across in no uncertain terms. Why in the world would we want to reward a company that has reneged on a deal?


13 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Another absolutely ridiculous vanity project! A perfectly good building hits the landfill because it is "ugly". Leave it alone.


10 people like this
Posted by winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Allow me a note of levity.

While I know that "Brutalist" is a style in architecture (and I have seen examples other than the local), it is, to me, also a funny word as applied to buildings. So in this context, I will be sad to see our brutalist battleship fall. I enjoy reading Gennady's referencing the term anytime he can work it into an article or in person, into a conversation, clearly also enjoying the word as applied.

So ignoble Brutalist Monument, I salute you in your passing. You have provided some measure of humor for me, never meaning to, but I will take it where I can get it in these truly brutalist times.


10 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2017 at 1:24 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Ellen - As you say, it is clearly functional, and perhaps even "perfectly good." That's what bugged me about the reporting in the article which referred to it as "obsolete," which is highly opinionated, mostly wrong, and a word likely introduced into the debate by the developer.


16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Developer isn't doing it out of sentimental artistic inclinations. They are doing it because new warehouse-style property will bring more money. For you, it will bring more workers and displace lots of small local owners who will not be able to pay triple rent. City isn't looking after its own.


20 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Not until they fix Edgewood.


38 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

@Reader Responder:

I am from another community. I think Palo Alto ARB members should be residents of Palo Alto.

Surely Palo Altans would not want someone from, oh let's say Union City just as an example to make these sort of decisions.


20 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2017 at 6:32 pm

These unfortunately named "brutalist" building are actually quite functional, and can be easily renovated. Mountain View has a couple of very similar buildings and one of them on Castro street was recently refurbished. The tan colored facade surrounding the windows that looks like concrete or stone, was actually a strong but light-weight fiberglass panel that the contractor was able to unbolt from the building's steel frame for repairs and painting.

The reason Stanford Land Management negotiated a new ground lease with Sand Hill Properties is because the building's financial performance is below market. The current building does not cater to current market trends. The ceilings are too low.

Millennial generation office-space workers have such low self-esteem that they need soaring ceiling and neo-googie facades to make their meaningless office-space jobs seem important. With out these ego boosting gimmicks, employers find it very hard to hire millennial office-space workers for wages that will not support a monthly mortgage payment.

Meanwhile... the beautiful white sand beaches of the world are disappearing as corrupt leaders sell them off to sate the real-estate industry's demand for construction grade beach sand.

"World's Beaches Become Victims of Construction Boom" Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Reader makes a good point. People who do not live here do not have skin in the game in the same way that residents do. Mayor Scharff: I ask that you or your designee provide the name and city of residency of ARB members. Thank you.


12 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2017 at 12:02 am

Call it brutalist or whatever, but I've always liked that building and the
shape of it and the large outdoor spaces on the second story.

it's a perfectly good building and I am sorry to see it go - it was representative
of Palo Alto to me.

I be the new building they put in its place will not have enough parking,
like everything newly built in Palo Alto.


15 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 18, 2017 at 9:03 am

"Meanwhile... the beautiful white sand beaches of the world are disappearing as corrupt leaders sell them off to sate the real-estate industry's demand for construction grade beach sand.

"World's Beaches Become Victims of Construction Boom" Web Link"

Ahem is right. Developers are so proud of getting gold or platinum (LEEDS ) "green"certification for their new buildings on site where existing buildings were wastefully demolished instead of being repurpose. Concrete production is the most wasteful and polluting industry on earth.

There is nothing green about demolishing buildings like 2600 ECR, except the many more "greenbacks"/ $$$$ that property owners will earn from new buildings that will house R&D/tech companies. Theses new buildings contribute to displacement of local businesses that residents need, ( in fact were often operated by residents) with new uses R&D ?TECH resulting in more single vehicle car trips/commuters to our city.

Lose lose lose lose situation. Wasteful demo and contribution to landfill,. creation of yet more new concrete to the diminishment of the beach sand it takes to make the stuff, pollution from the concrete factories and single car commuter trips and .....more cars parking on neighborhood streets to the diminishment of quality of life in our city.

All of this while the new majority on city council wants more; more buildings more development more cars more housing more money for Stanford and Sandhill and the chosen "few".
All with less regulation and protection for the taxpayer/residents of this beautiful city ( think gutting of the Land use element of the comprehensive plan on 1/30 ) !

Rise up my friends and take back what is yours mine and ours!

Demand transparency and adherence to the existing laws of the state and city and demand no further degradation of policies that protect our rights. TAKE BACK PALO ALTO: TBPA


9 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2017 at 9:15 pm

-- There is nothing green about demolishing buildings like 2600 ECR

That is for sure ... it is a perfectly good building that has a history in Palo Alto.
We do not need to dispose of all the rubble, or use new resources ... just leave
a perfectly good building in place. That building, Brutalistic, or not has character.

Look at what is replacing it ... does it have a nice spacious elevated patio?
I'm really sorry to see this building being marked for demolition - especially
to give more business and money to Sand Hill Properties ... yuck! What
is wrong with the decision making in this city?


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2017 at 10:22 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"What is wrong with the decision making in this city?"

Nothing that full sunshine on campaign finances couldn't alleviate."


8 people like this
Posted by David Franks
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2017 at 1:06 pm

"Brutalism" comes from "béton brut", which referred to the raw concrete surface left by the formwork in which it was poured. It also evokes the fact that major load-bearing components in concrete structures are relatively heavy, compared to steel construction.

While much brutalist architecture is a result of the desire to express power-- governmental, social, institutional-- some brutalist architecture is evocative in a friendly way.


6 people like this
Posted by Rajesh Chin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Why would anyone in the city planning department be stupid enough to believe anything that is promised by Sand Hill Property?


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