The four-story development at 240 Hamilton Ave. earned the approval of the city's Architectural Review Board in July, completing what would normally be the final step in the city's commission-review process. That, however, changed when downtown resident Douglas Smith appealed the approval, arguing that the glassy, rectangular building by Hayes Group Architects would be incompatible with the surrounding buildings, many of which are more traditional in style and feature red-tile roofs, decorative columns, stucco walls and arcades. Other residents argued that the city gave the developer too many parking exemptions and urged the City Council on Monday not to make the area's much-discussed parking shortage even worse.
The council didn't take a stance on the project, but it gave the residents at least a partial victory when it opted not to uphold the architectural board's approval. Instead, it removed the appeal of 240 Hamilton from its "consent calendar," a list of items typically approved with no discussion. Mayor Greg Scharff, who proposed taking the item off consent, said the council will hear the residents' appeal in November.
While the council didn't talk about the development at all, residents had plenty to say. During the public-comments period of the council's meeting, Smith noted that the city's Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code both encourage new developments to be compatible with the surrounding area and argued that city staff is misusing these documents.
"The guiding documents are not being followed as intended," Smith told the council. "I see this as an opportunity for the City Council to step in and make some permanent changes for the better. I think it's entirely possible."
Smith — who favors traditional architecture, like Spanish Colonial, to glass-heavy modern designs — also put together an online survey that offers residents a chance to vote on the types of buildings they prefer. Hundreds of people participated. That survey, he said showed 79.5 percent of the respondents agreeing with his contention that the new design for 240 Hamilton is not compatible with its surrounding area. He also said nearly 75 percent of the survey responders agreed that "new buildings should be in the older style, the historic style."
"I wanted to find out if am I a crank, or if the people support me," Smith said. "If I'm a crank, then Palo Alto is full of cranks."
Other speakers, including Faith Bell of Bell's Books, also encouraged the council to demand more parking spaces from the developer, Sal Giovanotto. Bell made a pitch for requiring underground parking for new buildings.
"Developers tell you it's too expensive to put in multiple floors (of underground parking)," Bell said. "But it's only too expensive for them. If they don't put it in, it's too expensive for all the rest of us."
The building would be 50 feet tall and would stand across the street from City Hall, next to Reposado Restaurant. It would include 9,915 square feet of office space, 3,473 square feet of residential space and 2,337 square feet of ground-floor retail.