New office building planned for University Circle | News | Palo Alto Online |


New office building planned for University Circle

Property owner looks to construct fourth office building near Four Seasons hotel

University Circle, the prominent commercial park that replaced the Whiskey Gulch neighborhood in East Palo Alto more than two decades ago, may soon get a fresh injection of office space.

Columbia Property Trust, which owns the development, has submitted a letter to the city this week, proposing to add a fourth office building to a complex that currently includes three commercial developments totaling about 450,000 square feet and a Four Seasons hotel. And while the plans are still in a very early phase, some in the community are already voicing concerns about the traffic impacts of the new development.

Under the proposal, which developer Columbia described in a pre-application letter to the city, a new building with about 180,000 square feet of office space would be constructed on what is currently a parking lot.

The building would occupy the southwest corner of the property, close to the intersection of University and Woodland avenues, and would also include a four-level underground parking garage.

In its letter, Columbia states that the project would "replace an under-developed parking lot with a higher and better office use, and showcase a more efficient use of valuable natural resources, thereby enhancing University Circle's reputation as the premier mixed-use campus in Silicon Valley."

The letter also notes that the project is part of a broader plan to "revitalize the University Circle complex," which will also include a "significant redevelopment of the complex's center circle, and addition of a conference center and fitness facility."

While the project is still far from approval, Columbia has already begun its outreach to community groups throughout the city and it claims that the feedback has been "largely positive." Even so, the letter points to several concerns that have popped up over the course of the outreach, with traffic and parking at the top of the list.

The project is located next to one of the most congested road segments in the Midpeninsula -- the University Avenue interchange on U.S. Highway 101 -- and the letter from Columbia acknowledged that traffic has been cited as "one of the top concerns."

The list of organizations that the developer has already engaged with includes Youth United for Community Action; Envision, Transform, Build-East Palo Alto; the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Association and Sand Hill Property Company, which owns about 1,800 housing units in the Woodland Park neighborhood.

Not everyone is pleased about the proposed development. Norman Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, told the Weekly that the last thing the badly congested area needs is another office building. Beamer's Palo Alto neighborhood sits just west of the East Palo Alto border.

"This area is totally jammed up already in the morning and evening hours," Beamer said. "This can't help that."

He also pointed to the history of University Circle, which was marked by litigation and a settlement that forced the developer to scale back its initial plans for the office park during the planning phase, more than 25 years ago.

Filed by the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, the lawsuit challenged the project's compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and resulted in two agreements that prohibited the developer from further developing the office complex until 2023, when the settlements terminate.

Beamer, whose neighborhood association had joined the suit, said the same issues that were at the forefront back then -- including traffic and visual impacts -- still apply, he said.

Columbia, for its part, cited the settlements in its letter but argued that nothing in it prohibits the city from "planning and processing" the proposed projects.

No one disputes that traffic impacts are the biggest wildcard. The developer wrote in the letter that connectivity between University Circle and most other East Palo Alto destinations, which are east of Highway 101, was a major concern that was identified both during its outreach process and the city's General Plan update.

"The pedestrian/bike path of travel along the University Ave. overpass is in inadequate and dangerous, particularly for residents using it during peak hours when there are numerous conflicts with congested vehicle traffic and a generally unpleasant environment," the Columbia letter states.

The developer also said it supports the city's effort to build a pedestrian/bike lane on University Avenue and looks forward to assisting with the endeavor.

Columbia has also hired a consultant to study the traffic issues around University Circle and is putting together a "transportation-demand management" program aimed at shifting people away from cars to other modes of transportation.

"We know the City is interested in applying TDM concepts more broadly in the community, and we look forward to sharing our plans and being one of the community leaders in improving traffic patterns which impact daily life of the residents of East Palo Alto," the letter states.


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18 people like this
Posted by overwhelmed
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Take away a bunch of parking and add more traffic. Yay! The Palo Alto Way!
(that's sarcasm, if you can't tell)

13 people like this
Posted by Nothing for Norman to see
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 9, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Palo alto has nothing to say about this project. It is in EPA. Pali alto should stick to dealing with their own problems. [Portion removed.]

20 people like this
Posted by Gridlock For All
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Good for Norman and the Crescent Park Neighborhood Assn. for speaking out.

Gridlock effects ALL of us.

1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2017 at 7:12 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by What's your point?
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2017 at 10:34 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2017 at 11:21 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 7:23 am

In 1998 Crescent Park sued them and got them to scale back the project from 18-story building and over 1 million square feet to current 6-story and 650K. But that restriction expires in 2023 -- seemed like far in the future back then. Oh, and the agreement had all sorts of traffic demand management provisions -- never worked out too well.

31 people like this
Posted by Observation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2017 at 9:29 am

Has anyone noticed that Los Altos, Mointain View, EPA and Menlo, all are putting their biggest development right up to our borders. Guess they feel entitled because we've been transforming PA into a giant ugly office park. For what, though? So that a few companies can take over instead of moving on when they need to grow?

We have three times too many people coming here during the day. It has cost us quality of life, traffic circulation, safety, noise and pollution, loss of all of our vibrant retail (for ordinary life). The infrastructure can only be tweaked so much. The easier way to solve this is to stop building so much office space here, and to start making restrictions to reduce the office population to a more sustainable level as companies turn over.. We limit the size of grocery stores but not the size of companies pushing out startups and retail and taking over the downtown the public built. We have a business element in the comp plan, not required by the state, but treat the rest required by the state, like noise and traffic circulation, like toilet paper.

There are many beautiful parts of the US in need of development and jobs, with good universities nearby. It is neither pratical nor n our national interest to pck everyone here. Distributed talent centers would make our nation strong, and we are already seeing that with San Antonio, Boulder, etc, but the companies are only going where the public has already created the niceties. That's a clue about how to solve this - more cheaply than by Manhattanizing Palo Alto (and its border areas).

7 people like this
Posted by Bob Brenner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 10, 2017 at 10:43 am

Good luck stopping this one. Can you imagine PA residents, where the jobs/housing imbalance is at 3/1, telling EPA that this will cause too much traffic? Good luck!

The only way out of this gridlock mess is more housing with greater density so workers don't have to drive as far or at all. Until height limits are increased substantially on the entire peninsula we're not going to make any progress on this. This place is a magnet for people and it's not stopping any time soon. If you want peace and quiet and a view, it's time to move.

18 people like this
Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2017 at 11:58 am

revdreileen is a registered user.

The traffic at that intersection is a nightmare every afternoon. If this project were to move forward, there would need to be a major effort at re-designing that intersection and VERY strict TDM requirements. The quality of life for those of us who live on the west-side of EPA and in the adjacent Palo Alto and Menlo Park neighborhoods is at stake.

Another major question mark about this project is the availability of water. We're out of it. Despite the recent allocation from Mountain View, we're still close to running dry. Where will the water come from for this building, or any other development in EPA?

20 people like this
Posted by Higher Density Won't Help
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2017 at 12:01 pm

"Commonsense" above repeats the absurd snake oil promise of developers that more growth will somehow cure our present problems. This is one of the great lies.

Building more homes to shorten commutes won't reduce local traffic. Instead, it replaces at most one trip in and out each workday by a commuter with several trips every day by a new resident to stores, restaurants, cleaners, schools, soccer fields, and so forth. Plus, people change jobs around here quite often. So the residents of new local housing may still have long commutes, as well as generating more local trips.

Ask yourself this: if adding more housing and higher density is the cure for gridlock, then a community with less housing and lower density ought to have worse gridlock. And in towns with just a few people per acre, like Woodside and Portola Valley, the traffic jams should be truly nightmarish. But that's of course not the case. So there's something wrong with commonsense's claim.

Here's yet more proof. Let's allow developers to build high-rise, dense housing but insist that if traffic doesn't get noticeably better, they have to take down the buildings and put back what was there before. In other words, actually require them to deliver the great benefits they keep promising. Not one will agree to the deal. That's because they and their investors all know it's a big lie.

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

@Higher-Density, yes!!! Make them deliver on their promises to reduce gridlock before we let them build another under-parked complex and before they put another major road, artery, etc. on traffic "diets" designed to make us so "reduce" traffic by 30% (or whatever arbitray number they chose).

This of course is ludicrous since ABAG et al have decided that we really need to add another 1,200,000 people by 2040.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2017 at 2:04 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2017 at 4:57 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Nothing to see
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 10, 2017 at 5:13 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 10, 2017 at 5:19 pm

More hypocritical Palo Altans trying to impose their will on EPA.
Maybe EPA doesn't give a hoot what you think.
Why don't Palo Altans focus in improving Palo Alto?

4 people like this
Posted by @Chris
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 11, 2017 at 1:18 pm

We DO try to improve Palo Alto!

However, we don't have the cash and influence to compete with those of the developers, large companies and corporate landlords!

4 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm

[Portion removed.] Clearly, a number of us are NOT happy about the emphasis in this article of outsiders attempting to impose their will onto East Palo Alto. Norm Beamer, [portion removed] is NOT the leading voice on this issue just because he's the president of a local neighborhood association. Our city leaders and the developers are the relevant voices in this issue. Pretty soon the voices of our residents will make themselves known. East Palo Alto must be financially viable, and no surrounding cities or their residents have a right to stop us.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Barron Park School

on Sep 26, 2017 at 4:18 am

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

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