Plan for block-long El Camino development fizzles | News | Palo Alto Online |


Plan for block-long El Camino development fizzles

As proposal to redevelop site around Equinox dies, another mixed-use proposal at nearby Palo Alto site advances

When Palo Alto officials approved in 2013 a block-long development on El Camino Real featuring 48 apartments, retail and office spaces, they hailed the project as a rare example of a "true mixed-use" project.

During a sequence of public hearings, planning commissioners, members of the Architectural Review Board and council members agreed that the 74,122-square-foot development proposed around Equinox Gym, at 3159 El Camino Real, is perfectly appropriate for the location, which is near the sprawling campus that includes Fry's Electronics.

Former Councilwoman Gail Price called the building "well-designed," while Lee Lippert, former chair of the architecture board, said the development "has the ability to be the driving force for other mixed-use projects."

Two years later, one of the largest commercial projects to win approval in Palo Alto in recent years appears to be dead. Its entitlements have expired and the hard-fought approval that the developer secured in 2013 is officially null and void, the Weekly has learned.

"The project will not get built," Senior Planner Russ Reich told the Weekly. "At least not unless it goes through the entitlement process all over again."

John Tarlton, whose company, Tarlton Properties, owns the site, did not respond to a request for comment. But Tarlton's failure to bring the project to life adds another wildcard to an area that council members view as among the most promising in the city for new housing. The city had spent years putting together a "concept area plan" for the nearby Fry's site, a vision document that spells out the desired land uses for the sprawling 15-acre property.

While that plan became less urgent when Fry's announced an extension of its lease until 2020, the council agreed in June to resume the work on a master plan after it completes the revision process for the city's Comprehensive Plan, Palo Alto's official land-use bible.

The city's Housing Element, a state-mandated document that lists sites that could potentially accommodate housing units, notes that the Fry's site can accommodate a "realistic capacity" of 221 housing units.

But while one El Camino Real project near the Fry's site is effectively dead in the water, another one is making steady strides through Palo Alto's approval process. A proposal for 3225 El Camino Real, the current site of Foot Locker, scored a victory on Dec. 9 when the Planning and Transportation Commission held a site-and-design hearing for the project and recommended approval.

The project includes a four-story building with ground-floor retail and eight housing units (four rental units and four condominiums), and a two-story office building. Designed by Ken Hayes, the development features nearly 12,000 square feet of commercial space, including 8,600 square feet of retail (surpassing the 7,000 square feet of retail space that currently exist in the Foot Locker building). It would have a total floor area of 29,249 square feet.

The two buildings would be connected by a second-story walkway. There would be 73 parking spaces between the two buildings, 19 on a surface lot and 54 in an underground garage. Earlier this month, the planning commission voted 6-0, with Commissioner Kate Downing recusing herself, to support the project, which still has to undergo reviews by the Architectural Review Board and, ultimately, the City Council.

The commission expressed a few minor concerns about the project, with Commissioner Asher Waldfogel wondering how the new project would fit in with the future "concept plan" for the Fry's site, and Chair Greg Tanaka recommending that the residential units be relocated so that they would be further away from traffic on El Camino. In the existing design, the residential units in the larger building face El Camino.

"Keeping residential away from traffic is generally a good rule," Tanaka said.

Hayes responded that the placement of units was driven by a desire to contain all units in one building and to ensure that the units get light and air from more than two sides. In the application for the project, he also wrote that the project "strengthens the El Camino street frontage and Portage corner with its four-story massing."

"Existing neighboring uses should benefit from this proposed project; its uses will attract new residents and commercial patrons," Hayes wrote. "The project will be constructed at a time when commercial space and housing are most needed. By using new materials, modern forms, and varied depth this project will be a desirable place to live, work and shop."

Even though the Hayes project is far smaller than the development approved for the Equinox site, it will face a hurdle that did not exist in 2013, when the latter was approved. Earlier this year, the council adopted an annual cap of 50,000 square feet on new office developments in downtown, around California Avenue and along El Camino. This means that to be eligible for approval next year, the proposal for 3225 El Camino will have to undergo all the relevant environmental analyses, commission reviews and a council hearing by March 31, 2016.

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39 people like this
Posted by Barb weber
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 17, 2015 at 12:28 pm

What will it take .....REALLY PEOPLE For us all to come to the reality that with no solutions to the current traffic load on

For a supposedly highly educated community and planning department, I HAVE NEVER WITNESSED MORE IGNORANCE.
There are no livable core environmental principals that are sound in this communities urban planning department, zoning, traffic and parking plans. ALL is EXTREEMLY short sighted and decades behind other similar communities who are progressive environmentally, socially, and economically.

The planning department seems to be bought and swayed by the developers, not the citizens.

10 people like this
Posted by CheckONe
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 17, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Hey! A recusal! Nice to see the PTC getting the message

20 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I totally agree with Barb Weber. Cramming in more housing and office space, overloading our roads, schools, infrastructure and adding more use of water and production of CO2 to the world needs to stop. We passed a sustainable number of residents and workers long ago and need to stop building. Overpopulation is destroying the planet and every city with uncontrolled growth is part of the problem. It is OK to say NO to growth and development.

23 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:05 pm

"they hailed the project as a rare example of a "true mixed-use" project."

Our pro development cabal has giddily slathered that praise on every commercial development proposal they've ever seen, then carefully forgotten to check whether the "housing" component has magically morphed into premium office suites.

16 people like this
Posted by Dont forget the boss
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Barb reminds us >The planning department seems to be bought and swayed by the developers, not the citizens.<
Don't leave out their boss, the city manager. It couldn't go on for years without his ok.
Architect Ken Hayes glass boxes are all over town.

14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Barb Weber has pulled the covers off the City Hall charade. All you have to do is drive around Palo
Alto, and what you see is destruction of a unique,
beautiful City on a scale and so complete, across
the board in virtually every aspect relating to
the urban and neighborhood environment it is truly shocking.

2 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm

development/density/urbanization is a fatal disease that has infected Palo Alto for the last few of decades and there doesn't seem to be any cure in sight. An elective continued exposure to this disease makes about as much sense as treating third degree burns by pouring boiling water on the victim.

We must halt all developments indefenitely. We must put a complete and indefinite stop to additional residents pouring into a town that already has much too much density. No more clever plots to attract even more traffic into this town.

Like this comment
Posted by Gimme
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Triple El

on Sep 26, 2017 at 8:47 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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