Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 18, 2014

Palo Alto Housing Corporation nears sale of Maybell site

Nonprofit enters contract with potential buyer after Palo Alto voters rejected its housing proposal

by Gennady Sheyner

After seeing its proposal for a housing development on Maybell Avenue fall in a referendum last year, the Palo Alto Housing Corporation has entered into a contract to sell the orchard site where the project was slated to go up.

Because of a confidentiality agreement, the Housing Corporation is not disclosing any details about the buyer or the terms of the sale. But Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the Housing Corporation, confirmed in an email that the nonprofit is "in contract with a buyer for the sale of the Maybell site but have not yet closed."

The sale was widely expected after November, when voters shot down the Housing Corporation's plan for a development that included 60 units of affordable housing for seniors and 12 single-family homes. Though the City Council unanimously approved the project, residents gathered enough signatures to bring the development to a citywide vote, where it was rejected by a margin of more than 1,500 votes. Critics of the proposal argued that the proposed "planned community" development is inappropriate because it is both out of compliance with zoning regulation and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

Opponents urged the Housing Corporation to reduce the number of units and bring the project into zoning compliance. Officials from the Housing Corporation countered that doing so would make the project impossible to finance and said they would likely have to sell the property if the development proposal were rejected.

Though the price is not being disclosed, the 2.46-acre property at 567 Maybell Ave. is expected to bring in more than the $15.6 million that the Housing Corporation paid for it. At that time, the nonprofit developer had outbid at least five other would-be buyers. It was ultimately chosen because of its nonprofit status, which allowed the family selling the orchard to get a tax write-off.

Palo Alto had loaned $5.8 million to the Housing Corporation for the site's purchase. In December, council members agreed not to terminate the loan but to give the nonprofit more time to repay it. City officials said at the time that with local property values on the rise (up by close to 20 percent between 2012 and 2013), the property could probably now be sold for about $18.7 million.

Gonzalez said the agency's intention is "to pay back all the lenders that supported our project, including the City of Palo Alto."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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