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Urban development proposed for El Camino block

Original post made on Jul 5, 2013

A quaint, eclectic and sparsely developed block of El Camino Real near Fry's Electronics in Palo Alto could get a hefty injection of urbanism. The city is about to launch a review of a mixed-use project at 3159 El Camino Real, a four-story building that would include a restaurant, office spaces and 48 apartments targeting young professionals.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, July 5, 2013, 8:46 AM

Comments (44)

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Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:28 am

Oh Great, Another Developer wants to do a High Density Project right on El Camino..
Lets see how many people we can Cram into this city.
What fun, I bet the building will look like a Palo Alto Library...


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

"The project, Reich said, is consistent with the city's vision for this part of El Camino."
There is problem #1. The city's vision is so fouled up now that each project built turns out to be the project-from-hell. Will this have narrow slit windows? Will this have grotesque
"prison architecture" - the metal perpendicular strips for decoration? That ruined the corner of El Camino and Oregon Expressway. THIS - and past - ARB and Planning Commissions are way off the planet, and we have a council wearing blinders.


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Posted by John
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

"exciting" "vision" developer speak for "gaming" the system


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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

Speaking of the "new urbanism," the architect who designed the apartments at 801 Alma should have his license to practice architecture taken away by force, after which he should be relegated to working as a greeter at Walmart.


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Posted by Judith
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:41 am

This sounds like a good, well-thought out project. It could be a model for sustainable development that could result in a larger supply of affordable housing in Palo Alto. I'll be interested in learning more about it.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

Not being an urban planner or architect, but a city resident who wants planning/building to occur with vision, so it will last, where can we find a high quality individual or consultant to figure out what should happen on El Camino Real?
Piecemeal approaches vs. a plan - is a plan too threatening? What is in place currently in Palo Alto (I don't know) -
I DO see all kinds of building on the fringe of PA - into Mt. View and Los Altos, of course, on ECR.
It's inevitable that change WILL come to ECR, and I am genuinely curious what would be best/appropriate.
Would young professionals really like to live right on ECR?
What is the status of the County (or VTA) scheme to have a bus lane that goes down ECR through Palo Alto?
What is the correct mix for a thriving ECR corridor, with business (and housing?!) and transit that keeps people moving effectively/efficiently.


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:47 am

Seems like a perfectly appropriate place for a development (for a change!)


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Posted by Garry Wyndham
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2013 at 10:53 am

Lots of things to like, not least the concept of a village of small apartments for singles/couples. Sadly however, after 801 Alma, the JCC and Miki's, we know that we cannot trust the vision of our city planners. They've damaged the 'new urbanism' brand.


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Posted by marcia laris
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

Oh goodie, another "space" to cram up with ugly buildings and more people. Well done, Palo Alto.


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Posted by Ethics be damned
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

Fergus Garber Young Architects is composed of two former city commissioners, Garber from the Planning Commission, Young from the Architectural Review Board. (Fergus is Garber's wife).
They learned the city ropes, made the useful connections, then went for the big bucks. Garber works on Arrillaga project, Young on this monster.
Ethics be damned.


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Posted by They just don't learn
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

"those who do not learn from rhe past are bound to repeat it", is a quote that applies to the City Council, ARB, and the Planning Commisaion.

Not only do they not learn from the past, they actually appear to WANT to repeat it.


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Posted by Dick
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I think the owners of this potential project are business partners with developer Boyd Smith as in WSJ Properties (Robert Wheatley, Boyd Smith, Dick Jacobson.) Boyd Smith is the developer of the hideous, monster Gateway project currently being built at the corner of Alma and Lytton. Watch out for this project!! [Portion removed.]


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Posted by Michele
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

What about the impact on the Page Mill/El Camino intersection? Are those cars ever going to be able to exit the fancy gumball garage? If you have ever tried getting out of the ATT parking lot onto El Camino you know what I am talking about.

No city planner ever seems to consider the impact on current busy streets or intersections. I guess in their fantasy world all these new residents will bike and walk at all times.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2013 at 2:47 pm

"City guidelines encourage buildings that create that urban edge, with more mixed-use in this area, so it was kind of a good opportunity," Reich said.

Did I miss that proclamation? When did residents indicate their desire for an "urban edge"?


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Looks like any modern looking buildings will be attacked by the locals who think that palo alto,was so wonderful 30 years ago ( too bad all the geniusEs In town never figured out how to,stop progress) . For some people, all buildings need to look like eichlers or the retched looking homes that populate prossorveille. The JCC and the Mitchell Park library are very nice to look at.
Funny how no one complains about the Cheesecake Factory!


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Michelle - there is a light at Portage and El Camino, so getting out of the lot shouldn't be problem (though I still can't figure out why there is a light on Alma at Miki's but not at Oregon Expressway or North California).

Not an issue - the Cheesecake Factory IS creepy.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On "close to":
To the Caltrain Station: 0.8 miles (GoogleMaps, via El Camino)
To the center of the Cal Ave Business District: 0.7 miles

In talks by professional planners -- Palo Alto staff and consultants -- the most number used for maximum effective walking distances is 0.5 miles.

Bicycling will be a very reduced option. The intersection of Page Mill and Park is already regarded as dangerous by many bicyclists and it is going to become much, much worse. First with the approved development at 195 Page Mill and then the proposed hyper-massive development at 395 Page Mill (Jay Paul on current AOL site).

It's indicative of the state of Palo Alto City planning that bicycling along El Camino may soon be seen as safer than using the designated Park Blvd bicycle boulevard.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

So we are going to nitpick over 0.2-0.3 miles ( based on an unreferenced source)
Page mill does not really intersect park-- there is the on ramp to page mill from park and the short off ramp from page mill to park, but no direct ntersection.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Not an issue"

He said "based on an unreferenced source" to my "In talks by professional planners -- Palo Alto staff and consultants..."

He said "Page mill does not really intersect park..." which demonstrates that he doesn't even know how to read a map (Page Mill extended to the Caltrain tracks) or how to type into GoogleMaps (or the equivalent) the 195 Page Mill address I cited.

He says "we are going to nitpick over 0.2-0.3 miles" when I said that 0.5 miles was cited as the _maximum_ effective -- 40-60% over the maximum is not nitpicking.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Part of the City's vision for this area is a pedestrian and bicycle crossing of Page Mill at Ash -- one block east of El Camino (map: Web Link)

This crossing is embedded in the City's zoning ordinance. During the considerations of the revision (including Council debate), I protested, to no avail, that having a crossing -- and the necessary traffic light -- at such a location would greatly increase congestion on Page Mill and even El Camino (cars want to turn onto east-bound Page Mill would not be able to do so when there was backup from that traffic light).


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Note that my description of the page mill/ park intersection is correct-- while it may extend to then tracks-- the portion that crosses park is a limited ntersection. When talking about small numbers-- 40-60% difference is not that relevant.
[Portion removed.]


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Posted by try a different approach
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 5, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 5, 2013 at 6:50 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Bernard Zaslav
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Driving daily from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I found Broadway and 42nd St. to be the very mother of all traffic jams in the 1960s. Having now lived here since 1985, it's obvious that the monstrous amount of building going on along ECR presage the end of enjoyable living in our once beautiful Palo Alto. How many rats are to be crowded into this cage by greedy developers? Local government, do your stuff!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2013 at 10:11 am

To "Ethics Be Damned" . THANK YOU. And......
No one complained about the Cheesecake Factory? Did anyone really KNOW what was going to happen? Complaints later were profuse, but what good did it do when it was finished. The 'new' Walgreen's? That's more 'prison architecture'. A blight on University Avenue IMHO. The Gateway project is obscene in size. And now El Camino. Most residents do not have the time to live at the ARB or Planning Committee meetings, and of course SOME meetings are not public and hidden in the top floors of City Hall, like for 27 University. Yes, Palo Alto once was quite lovely. Downtown is not anymore, and El Camino is 'losing it'.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

If you don't like the current look and feel of the new commercial buildings going in around town, look no further than the ARB. I cannot reveal my source or the location, but I am personally aware of an early phase plan for a new office building in downtown PA. The original elevations showed a building with an "updated" traditional look - framed windows, stucco, tiled roof/facade. The ARB shot it down at the first meeting. The architect was expressly told to go home and come back with a modern/contemporary look, no exceptions.

ARB is a bigger problem than people realize.


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Posted by Mom Greenmeadow
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Could someone explain to me how the ARB has so much power in our city. The look and feel of our city has become a developers paradise. I'm trying to figure out why we have a city counsel if they are not going to protect the city from these developers. It feels like there is not one part of town that is not under development. If you look at the traffic gridlock in the morning you know not one member of the city counsel drives in the gridlock they helped create by not monitoring or managing the ARB better. Next election do you think that we could get some members of the city counsel that will protect our city. I look at the Mitchell Park library how much more money do we need to spend. I guess the city counsel will tell residents it was all necessary in the end. I vote to replace the ARB and the City Counsel in right now. We need some people with actual backbones.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm

The article begins with "A quaint, eclectic and sparsely developed block of El Camino Real near Fry's Electronics"

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? There is nothing about El Camino Real that is quaint and sparsely developed. I'll give you "eclectic" because El Camino Real is a hideous strip, a mish mash. It is as ugly as Ventura Blvd. in LA.

Palo residents don't want to absorb growth in any of their beloved neighborhoods (many of which may be expensive but not very attractive) -- yet they get hysterical about redeveloping existing high density areas.

Here's the issue: the City can't remain the same, but enjoy all the benefits/$$$$ of hi tech growth...and still keep everything like it was in 1950. Growth and demand for new homes/commercial development GO TOGETHER. It's the way our capitalism works.

Palo Alto WILL become more densely developed whether you want it or not. The trick to is plan for it in order to preserve the city's attractiveness and functionality.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Well I would hope the people fighting a project like this would at least have the intellectual honesty to say they are against all development period, none of this "out of character with existing neighborhood" tripe.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Well it is at least on/close to El Camino Real.

Some people will not walk 200' so what is .2 of a mile to them.

IMHO We need to score developers on meeting the parking needs of the tenants occupying their structures.
A 100% full lot more than 2 times a week means their next plans will have at least 10% more parking per unit (of what ever measure is currently being used).

3 failures in a row and NO new construction plans will be approved for 5 years. Moral: Adequate parking for the designed use (that goes for Residential and Commercial)
No more free (parking lot) lunch


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Posted by observer III
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2013 at 11:03 pm

@Kate
We need a "design review" czar who has oversight over all staff and ARB decisions which impact the physical environment. This would be outsourced to a recognized design professional who has no ties to the current "players" who are destroying the aesthetics and character of the city. A citizen oversight committee would be responsible for hiring this design professional. This position would be established by an initiative process along side the removal of the PC zoning provision.When a project or action is deemed incompatible in scale and visual impact it would be rejected.

A couple residents did complain about The Cheesecake Factory. It was
exactly 10 years ago that Roxy Rapp's CAKE sailed through the ARB
with staff approval for University Ave. It replaced Copeland's
Sports and as I recall was initially agendized as a "facade remodel",
then changed. It is essentially an unfettered mall design prototype
when virtually all 150+ CAKES are in mall settings. Even in Bellevue,
WA where it is in a mall fronting on the main business street there
is reduction of signage. I believe this project which is so incompatible with University Ave and the prescribed mandate of the
ARB was a clear warning of trouble ahead in Palo Alto when market
conditions improved which is what we have seen in the last few years.


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Posted by fomad
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I'm curious to see what their idea of "affordable" will be.

How about creating housing that the teachers of PA schools can afford??!!

Can't wait for this tech bubble to pop!


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2013 at 9:12 am

I agree most development should either blend around surrounding buildings and homes. In the case of ECR we could design higher then 2 stories but use of classic designs and,less boxy feel.

Nothing wrong with using Clark, Morgan, Greene, Polk or Wright inspired designs.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2013 at 4:32 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

If you want a vision of the future?
Go look at photos of Market street in The City c1965
Look at those same locations Today

Look up. Straight UP.

Do we want ECR (or University Ave) to go in that direction?


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Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I am with Judith, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood


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Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Palo Alto does not need any more businesses, any more apartments, any more homes. And certainly does not need anymore "affordable housing". We are sick and tired of the city dumping these people into Barron Park and simply put, Palo Alto is an expensive place like Los Altos and I don't see anyone in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills braking a leg to get welfare recipients or ex criminals living in their cities so they will have immediate access to homes and apartments. No more new people in Palo Alto


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Posted by observer III
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

@Kate
The citizen complaints regarding The Cheesecake Factory were after it was done- the scaffolding and tarps came off and revealed a prototype mall design, unfettered CAKE on University Ave. Not a peep was heard from City Council members as I recall regarding this
flagrant violation by the ARB of its mandate to promote harmonious
and compatible development and the staff recommendation of approval. The protocol for future development in Palo Alto was in place and
here we are ten years later with the results.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 8, 2013 at 11:20 pm

When they say "the city's vision for Palo Alto," just who are they referring to? Who is the "city" mentioned in this article? Elected city council members who come and go with each election?


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Posted by PA resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 8, 2013 at 11:44 pm

This sounds like a reasonable idea IMO. I'm assuming the units will be small (studios and 1-2 BR units). If so, this will help get ABAG off our backs without putting undue pressure on the schools. And there's clearly more demand for smaller housing units by young professionals than by low-income seniors.


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Posted by OMG
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 9, 2013 at 7:53 am

This is the first development in a long, long time that actually seems basically okay. It is working within existing zoning and most importantly it is actually providing decent rental apartments. These are studios and 1 bedroom - there will be very few if any kids.

Virtually everything built over last 10 years has been condo units.

This is in a good location for people working at Stanford / downtown or a grad student at Stanford. They will still be pricey but for people without kids, you would only rent here because you live nearby. They seem like ideal corporate rental spaces.

It is nice to see that they will not tear down Equinox.

A true breath of fresh air.






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Posted by no trust
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

Don't trust anything here. Even the new Apple Store Downtown ends up with two surplus freeway berms,one damaged, painted gray on the sidewalk in front of the store on University Avenue seriously degrading the streetscape and the intended visual effect of the store itself.The berms should be replaced by an attractive less obtrusive iron fence if some kind of barrier is needed there, which apparently was determined shortly after the store opened and never
anticipated by the ARB, staff or architect. The all glass facade
at that location without even any posts to define the space better
I thought was a design mistake when I first saw the store.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2013 at 11:49 am

I found this type of building that looks classic, doesn't have to be exact but want to show you what could be created using old school style design.

Web Link

It is not just a square modern box.


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