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A good trade-off?

Original post made by Tyler Hanley, digital editor of Palo Alto Online, on Jul 11, 2006

Palo Alto developer Chop Keenan is willing to build another parking garage on High St. if the city will allow him to build a four-story building at High and Hamilton (where only a two-story building would otherwise be allowed.)
Are the additional parking spaces (about 100) for downtown shoppers a good trade-off for allowing a larger building than the current zoning allows?
Or should the city council pass up the parking and let Keenan go forward with just a two-story building?
How do you feel about these "public benefit" projects where more development is allowed in exchange for parking or other benefits?

See story at Web Link

Comments (15)

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Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2006 at 4:36 pm

Down Town is in such dire need of parking that I would gladly exchange the 3 story limit for some much need down town parking.
Developers need to do what works


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Posted by Kea
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2006 at 11:31 pm

2 new parking structures were built in downtown few years ago and they are barely used. I personally don't think another garage is necessary. Plus, high density building doesn't go with Palo Alto downtown's image.


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Posted by Peter Toft
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2006 at 11:14 am

Chop Kenan is again trying to make DEALS-who do you think gets the best end of the stick?-We have enough ugly parking buildings allready


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Posted by kyu
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2006 at 4:18 pm

I don't know much about Chop Kenan... I like the idea of allowing a taller building in exchange for a parking structure, but I don't know that I like the idea that a developer will be in charge of the design. One of my favorite parking garages is the one off Alma close to University, next to the Blockbuster. The choice of materials was elegant and fits in with the surrounding neighbors surprisingly well. High density building will have to become a part of Palo Alto's downtown image at some point if the city continues to grow and harvest more wealth. I know people that work near University and Waverly that drive to get to University and High - save gas and walk!! Downtown density is good for you, as long as you do it right!!


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Posted by Linda
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2006 at 11:31 pm

I agree with Kea that we have enough parking structures and PA downtown has enough traffic already.


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Posted by no more parking
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2006 at 12:32 pm

No need for more parking, don't allow the three story building. period.


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Posted by David Bubenik
a resident of University South
on Jul 13, 2006 at 2:21 pm

On July 10 our City Council considered two Planned Community proposals. The first, a genuine affordable housing complex at 801-841 Alma, is an outstanding example of the PC process used properly. It is clearly one of those "unified, comprehensively planned developments which are of substantial public benefit" called for by city ordinance 18.68.010, which establishes the Planned Community zoning exception.

The High-Emerson proposal shows the PC process turned on its head. It would be yet another site-specific exemption from our carefully-formulated zoning that is supposed to guard our town's character, granted for certain private profits and uncertain public benefits.

My favorite example of PC amok is the oversized office building at 390 Lytton, whose developer received his superzoning allowances in exchange for a basket of alleged "public benefits" that included a few dozen brightly colored toy cars mounted in its doorway, for public edification. (They have since been repainted a dull gold.) I am not making this up. Read all about it at Web Link. Who says Palo Alto is expensive?

On the positive side, the new PC proposal would at least feature real cars.


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Posted by Bob Gardiner
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2006 at 10:14 pm

Unfortunately, special interests will always win out over the public good; especially when there is weak leadership in city council.

The city council seems bent on supporting development, which is subsidized by hidden taxes on the rest of the populus. A parking garage compounds Keenans profits: first his existing commercial businesses become more valuable due to the increased traffic. Secondly, the city council puts money in his pocket by re-zoning his property.

The sad thing is Palo Alto does not have any newspapers capable of putting together a coherent story on the selling of Palo Alto.


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Posted by TS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2006 at 4:36 pm

I don't know the answer because I don't know how fully utilized the new multi-million $ parking garage a block from the proposed project is, but I hope it is one of the questions the City asks. Is their a target for "enough" parking? Downtown merchants will understandably always favor more parking as more cars means more sales, but I personally think downtown (and all of Palo Alto has enough traffic, offices, and density as is and we should be changing uses to retail, rather than densifying zoning, with the possible exception of Transit Oriented Development a la the California Avenue plan.

PC zoning has been a boon for developers' pocketbooks. I have been told that Caffe Riacce now operates commercially in the "public benefit" courtyard of the apartment building at 200 Sheridan Avenue near Park. If true, it underlines the absurdity of some of these supposed benefits.
In addition, the City should do a ballpark calculation of how much Mr. Keenan will reap from the change to denser zoning, and decrease the allowed square footage to minimize his gain. We shouldn't give away the store, especially for non-sales-tax-generating office uses, as I believe we did when Stanford traded 50 years use of the Mayfield site for office development rights that go forever. Stanford was thinking long-term, Palo Alto was thinking short-term as if it were "free". Once buildings are in you can never go back, so don't rush to increase density.


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 16, 2006 at 12:26 pm

It's a known - and counterintuitive - fact that comercial districts with LESS than enough parking tend to thrive. MORE than enough parking tends to be a problem. Allen Jacobs, At Berekely, and others, have clearly shown that.

My sense is that the Keenan - who absolutely has a right to make a profit, help the city by doing what he can through tenant management to make sure that Palo Alto maintains commercial viability. Once the building or parking structure is built, then what? More chains? more high end boutique retail? Developers need to assume more responsibility for this.

The real problem here is that we're outflanked by big box retailers, and new hotels. Palo Alto's tax base will now begin to depend more than ever on older homess being sold at very high prices, and very high end retail.

How do people on this thread see a possibility for managing this? IS is manageable?

There needs to be a conversation about this unavoidable trend. how are we going to deal with it? How can we do what we have to do without turing Palo Alto into a place of high end trendy shops, long term? Again, it may not be possible, or even what a people want, but I don't see that conversation happening.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2006 at 12:43 pm

All vendors have a right to make a profit. No one has a right to profit resulting from re-zoning their property at the expense of the rest of the citizens.

It sounds like this rezoning helps Keenan in two ways:
1) Increased traffic leads to higher rents and therefore values for his existing properties.

2) The relaxed zoning on the property in question directly increases the value of that property.

Finally, the cost of the increased traffic is subsidized by the rest of the citizens of Palo Alto, through increased waits in bumper to bumper traffic, more police, etc....


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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 16, 2006 at 6:25 pm

Bob, You bring up some excellent points; they're related to whaat I wrote just prior to your post.

A few things: The sense by Keenan - and others, including yourself - that increased traffic will result from a new parking structure, is not a foregone conclusion. I would again point you (and Keenan_ to Allen Jacobs' (and others) work. We ALREADY have MORE than enough parking downtown.

What we really need in Palo Alto (and the region) is more varied, more highly accessible, cheap public transport that gets us where we want to go, when we want to go there. Currently, this isn't the case.

True, we have some intra-city transport, and inter-city transport, but it's not enough to motivate people to get out of their cars. What's ironic is that PUBLIC TRANSPORT - again, easily accessed and in sufficient number - to get people using it.

Here, we need to look to our policy makers - City Council, VTA, etc. - to being to aggressively work to make this happen.

Getting back to your points, you're exactly right about the rezoning increasing Keenan's interest, but consider that our City Council (or any other City Council) facing the kind of forward revenue shortages that Palo is facing, will be motivated to let things like downtown parking garages and other large commercial projects go forward because they see revenue possibilities.

Palo Alto - in this sense - in between a rock and a hard place. We need revenue, and the only way to make that revenue happen is by letting more development (that results in more taxes) take place.

With that as a given, what other solutions do you see?


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Posted by Leslie H.
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2006 at 4:29 pm

As a life-long Palo Alto resident who finally had to move away in search of affordable housing, I still feel very protective of this city (and hope to move back someday). Chop Keenan has carefully and respectfully developed this city for decades, and has nothing but the best intentions for this project. He is sensitive to residents' concerns over increased traffic and the threat of over-building. This project is well thought-out, and will be an improvement to downtown with a minimal downside. It is an excellent compromise during an era that was not forseen when current zoning laws were enacted.


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Posted by Connie Jo
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2006 at 12:34 pm

I agree Chop has done so much good for this community. He is invested and thoughtful with his proposed projects. I totally support more parking. I would support Chop and remove obstacles to make this happen for downtown. Parking will continue to be a challenge as we are adding more homes and businesses every year. The new parking structures during the day and into the evening are all full now. Whole Foods and Peets area are jammed with cars and we are in need of of this additional parking for the area.


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Posted by Public parking
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2006 at 11:39 am

What ever happened to the 63 parking spaces that were supposed to be the public benefit from 800 High St., open to the public 24/7 ? The city gave them free land underground for it.
The million-plus dollar condos have all sold. Where is the public parking?


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