Condos and townhouses approved for Compadres site | News | Palo Alto Online |


Condos and townhouses approved for Compadres site

City Council supports new mixed-use development at El Camino Real location of former restaurant

A proposal to construct a mixed-use development with commercial space, condominiums and townhouses at 3877 El Camino Real cleared its final hurdle and won City Council approval on Sept. 18, 2017. Rendering by EID Architects

A south Palo Alto building once renowned for enchiladas and margaritas will soon be demolished to make way for townhouses and condominiums under a proposal that the City Council approved Monday night.

The City Council voted 7-0, with Lydia Kou and Eric Filseth absent, to allow the demolition of the vacant building at 3877 El Camino Real that once housed Compadres Bar and Grill, a popular Mexican restaurant that shuttered in 2008 after more than two decades of operation on the corner of El Camino and Curtner Avenue. The building will be replaced with a three-story development featuring 4,035 square feet of commercial space and six condominiums on the El Camino Real side of the L-shaped property; and 11 two-story townhouses at the rear of the site.

The council's decision concluded more than three years of public hearings and affirmative votes by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, Architectural Review Board and Historic Resources Board.

On Monday night, the council swiftly followed suit and gave the project its final stamp of approval.

For project architects Stuart Welte and Mark Wommack of EID Architects, the discussion got off to an auspicious start when the council's very first speaker -- Councilman Adrian Fine -- made a motion to approve the project, prompting immediate support from Vice Mayor Liz Kniss.

Kniss observed that the Compadre's site has been vacant for a long time, while Fine called the proposal by property owner Zijin, LLC, a "pretty good project" that is sensitive to community concerns.

"In the community, folks are talking about housing, good design, projects being responsive to traffic and parking woes," Fine said, alluding to the proposed underground garage with 62 spots. "This is probably one of the better projects in response to those (concerns) that we've had in a while."

In a letter accompanying the application, Wommack, argued that the project "will transform this blighted parcel into a vibrant and sustainable mixed-use community." It will include a mix of commercial and townhome-style condominiums, which will be provided with ample parking located within the basement below grade, Wommack wrote.

"These units are planned to maximize energy efficiency and provide a range of entry level housing options that will promote a healthy living environment for residents," Wommack wrote. "This, in conjunction with the inclusion of two affordable housing units within the project, will provide housing for a diverse range of income levels."

The project, he told the council Monday, will also improve a streetscape that for many years hasn't seen much change or improvement.

"The building itself has been vacant for a number of years -- an eyesore that has attracted vagrants who have been difficult to keep out of the building," Wommack said.

He also observed that this particular Ventura site is one of very few that are zoned for high-density housing. The 0.75-acre property is split between service commercial (CS) zoning on the El Camino Real side and RM-30 zoning (which allows a density of 30 housing units per acre) at the rear.

"This is one of the few areas of the city where you do have high density," Wommack said.

Not everyone was bowled over by the project. Councilwoman Karen Holman observed that by providing two below-market-rate units, the project is able to benefit from both local and state laws that grant development concessions for affordable housing (the local law allowed the developer to add 2,596 square feet of residential space). In a nod to the historical significance of the 1938 adobe building, Holman added a condition ensuring that the structure be made available for photography prior to demolition.

Councilman Cory Wolbach was somewhat frustrated by Wommack's explanation of how the developer chose 17 housing units for a site that under code can accommodate 22. Wommack said the unit count was based on market demand, an answer that Wolbach called "opaque."

A few residents also took issue with the project -- particularly its reliance on density bonuses. Becky Sanders, who heads the Ventura Neighborhood Association, argued that the developer had not demonstrated that the development concession he is receiving from the city (extra residential square footage) is supporting the affordable-housing component, as code requires. Sanders said she has formally requested from the city documentation justifying the requested concession but has not received it.

Providing developers with concessions produces no additional affordable housing, she said. It actually drives up the price of housing, she argued, because it allows the construction of larger and more expensive units.

"The Ventura Neighborhood Association supports building more housing, however we seek transparency and adherence to the zoning code," Sanders said.

The council, however, saw nothing improper about the developer receiving floor-area bonuses and a "design enhancement exception" to reduce the setback in the rear of the basement from 10 feet to 6 feet. The biggest dispute had to do with process.

After Mayor Greg Scharff opened the discussion by inviting his colleagues to ask questions and make comments and motions, Fine led off by moving to approve the proposal. Kniss, who regularly joins Scharff and Fine in approving development projects, instantly seconded Fine's motion.

The process irked Councilwoman Karen Holman, who observed that council members often have a chance to ask questions and discuss items before anyone makes a motion. She also wondered why Scharff called on Fine first and said that she had turned on her light (indicating a wish to speak) before Fine. Holman called Scharff's expedited process "inconsistent" and cited a recent meeting in which he had kept her from making a motion before other council members had a chance to weigh in.

Scharff did not dispute her characterization.

"The process is not consistent -- depending on how the mayor views the evening," Scharff said, who then disputed that she had asked to speak first.

While the exchange between Holman and Scharff stopped there, two council colleagues alluded to it in later conversations. Both Wolbach and Councilman Tom DuBois said they would prefer a more "consistent process."

This is particularly important, DuBois said, when the item being debated is quasi-judicial -- that is, when the council effectively plays the role of a judge rather than legislators, such as when they rule on the legal merits of a development.

"I find it useful to hear questions before making a considered decision," DuBois said.


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67 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Mayor Scharff is doing a poor job by his constant game playing. The night when the Council voted for Mayor in January, he promised he would be fair and evenhanded as Mayor, yet he has been anything but. He abuses his role as facilitator of the meeting as a Mayor is to do, often speaking first rather than later or last on issues, and calls on his political allies first, ensuring they will define issues by making the motions, or allows motions to even be made as in this instance above, before there is even any discussion.

This isn't petty whining - this matters, which is why both Dubois and Wolbach speak up here, in addition to Holman, covering the political spectrum on the Council.

Residents have been short changed by Scharff having his extra bit of power as mayor - his being able to determine the order that Council members even speak. This is a lousy way to run City Council meetings where vital policies get made that are critical to Palo Alto and its residents. We have had past Mayors who have risen above their personal politics and functioned well as a leader, respecting that role and their other Council members. Scharrf does none of these things. He should have never been elected Mayor, having neither the integrity nor the maturity of real leadership.

43 people like this
Posted by rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Mayor Scharff is well advised to be consistent and allow the first person to speak first. If not, he'll breed animosity and mistrust on the Council. That's not only counter productive, it's poor management and we expect more from our Mayor. In addition, as Council Member DuBois said, consistency is important. And, were should have discussion before voting. This is so elementary that I hope Mayor Scharff feels some chagrin at his misstep.

9 people like this
Posted by Compadre
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Sharff's shenanigans aside, the development is a good thing.

40 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm

I'm still disillusioned with the council, planning and other city officials -- that continue to reduce the quality of life in south Palo Alto. We've lost our bowling alley -- site of man y happy birthday parties and recreational activity. We've lost numerous restaurants and businesses to housing and hotels -- There may be plenty of places for people to inhabit -- and business people to sleep -- but what about Living!!!

25 people like this
Posted by Shame on them
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Holman Is acting like a petulant child. Instead of complaining that she didn't get to speak first, she should be working on getting that bike bridge over 101 built. Remember, karen, the one that you insisted that we have a drawn out design contest for and then three out the results of the contest and then it became to expensive?

17 people like this
Posted by old fud
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

I well remember so many years ago when the charming Rudolfo's closed (and sat idle forever), the council decreed that business would concentrate in north P.A. and housing in the south. Gone are the affordable Ricky's, L'Ommies,et al and now even Su Hong, besides the b.alley and more. Little diversity and no charm among massed housing and hotels. Recent councils have pushed more and similar developments that have erased the unique ambiance of Palo Alto.

32 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Thank goodness for our press. Thank you Gennady for covering the City Hall beat so faithfully. And I'm grateful for the process. Rather than worry and wonder, I can be heard. And I'm not giving up on those documents. If the City has them stashed somewhere I'm sure Jonathan and Hillary and Sheldon will give them to me to review. It's crazy that in this day and age all the relevant documentation pertaining to a construction project that solicits public benefits/bonuses/variances/DEEs/ developer giveaways is not online for public review. It's always good to follow through when something doesn't sit quite right. So I'll be crawling around City Hall looking under desks and in dustbins for the missing pages. Cheers everyone!

25 people like this
Posted by Shame on them
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Improper-- and yet the vote was unanimous info favor of the project. Seems like it was just a petulant council member.
Sounds like that part of the story is just the weekly being the weekly.
But you should start a recall , improper.

28 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm

As to the merits of the project at the compadres site I shall decline to speak.

As to Scarf's despotic attitude with regards to how he executes power on his "rotation" as mayor i will speak.

Time and time again the developer-elected self-appointed elite Council members (including Scharff) stick together to get the upper hand on votes and "trump" the expectation that the public holds that we will have a fair process at city hall.

Scharff does not get to "evaluate how he mayor" views the evening," (as quoted), but instead must follow basic courtesy and parliamentary behavior, which is the process expected by his fellow council members and the public for the conduction of city business.
Otherwise, it is a sham process that is driven by the pursuit of power regardless of truthfulness and honesty and to respect for the residents of Palo Alto.

Council member Holman has proven herself, over years of pubic service, to be fair, level headed and willing to treat all colleagues, staff and members of the public with respect and to view leadership broadly as a commitment to all in her community and not just a tool for personal and political gain.

8 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 19, 2017 at 4:55 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Of course the right decision was reached by a 7-0 vote. The process? Well, since I didn't watch that early part of the meeting I guess I shouldn't comment, but if it happened the way it was reported, then yes, Mayor Scharff made a mistake, intentionally or not. Fine is showing off his fledgling wings by making a first strike motion to approve the project. Then, when it was finally opened up for discussion, saner minds and voices were heard from and the real thinkers got involved and expressed their views, concerns, etc. A lot of good questions were raised during that time. Cory's questions were good ones...challenging developer/architect as to why the housing part wasn't proposed at the highest limit of units. He also made a point when he asked the mayor if they were going to be following Robert's Rules of Order. That really impressed me. I thought it was only us old geezers that even knew what that meant. I chaired many meetings years ago when people (claiming to be experts) kept me on my toes by telling me all about the book of rules. Way to go Cory!

And @ 'old fud' You brought tears to my eyes. I remember all of those places you mentioned. Just memories now, but good memories, from the past. In a memory contest, I might out memory you because I've lived here since 1961. My town has changed so much. So many physical elements (buildings) are gone, having been erased (razed) and replaced, and so many old business locations having changed hands numerous times...but our memories linger and prevail. Compadres was a great hangout for active people wanting good Mexican food and drinks. I was young once and my wife, Garnet and I ate there often, inside and outside.

4 people like this
Posted by Tanaka is fine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 5:38 pm

"Council member Holman has proven herself, over years of pubic service, to be fair, level headed and willing to treat all colleagues, staff and members of the public with respect and to view leadership broadly as a commitment to all in her community and not just a tool for personal and political gain."

well if we are talking about personal gain-- all I can say is funded fees. I will also ask for a list of what Holman has accomplished in her 7 years in the council-- we are still waiting for that bike bridge over 101 that she was so hung up about years ago. There is the 27 university incident , where the council met in secret with arillaga. Not exactly holmans finest hour. But she did get the council to agree to allow the old comrades to be photographed since it is an example of faux palo alto historic

3 people like this
Posted by Tanaka is fine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Above should read "finder fees" instead of "funded fees"

10 people like this
Posted by Robert's rules of order
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 19, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Robert's rules of order actually call for a motion by the deciding body as soon as possible.

14 people like this
Posted by Carla Talbott
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Former Resident 1970-2008, St. Francis/Sierra Court....I was always told that the old adobe building was historically valuable. Guess not! Not compared to the growth lust that inflicts the area, increasingly to its detriment. Sorry to hear it as I've spent many enjoyable times at that place, under different managements, through the years.

4 people like this
Posted by Mayor of Mayfield
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:17 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by El Capitan
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:38 pm

I am not sure why people keep complaining. The project and the process to approve the project appear reasonable to me. I completely support any new well-designed, compact, dense and affordable housing development in Palo Alto.

5 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:05 am

Marie is a registered user.

Although the project is otherwise appropriate, I don't understand why retail is being allowed to be replaced by commercial property, especially when adding housing. Additional residents should be able to support additional retail in the area. They don't need more offices, of which we already have an excessive amount in PA.

11 people like this
Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:15 am

Mr. Scharff has been playing fast and furious with the normal process of letting Council Members speak to an agenda item. Since becoming Mayor he has consistently limited discussion by either speaking first and making an immediate motion or calling on a fellow Gang of 5 cohort to make his motion. The discussion then becomes a reaction to the Motion rather than an in depth discussion of the pro and cons of the agenda item.

Certainly the longer and more interesting discussion seen under previous Mayors are not occurring. Anything but.

An early and excellent example of the above behavior was the initial CC "discussion" of the Comp Plan. Scharff made an intermediated Motion, cut off discussion and the Gang of 5 essentially gutted the Comp Plan.

Luckily the public reacted with outrage.

Thank you CC members Holman, DuBois and Wolbach for calling Scharff on his inappropriate behavior.

Consistent process,detailed and unlimited discussion on agenda items are essential to the democratic process and allow voters to assess their representatives.

Please continue to object when the process is not followed but rather becomes "the whim" of the Mayor. Calling Scharff out and doing so loudly may cause him to modify his behavior. Maybe even raising your hand when putting your light on to speak will encourage Scharff to call CC members in their honest order. The public is with you.

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:45 am

Fond memories of 2:00am adjournments.

24 people like this
Posted by I watched
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Rita Vrhel put it clearly:
Mr. Scharff has been playing fast and furious with the normal process of letting Council Members speak to an agenda item. Since becoming Mayor he has consistently limited discussion by either speaking first and making an immediate motion or calling on a fellow Gang of 5 cohort to make his motion. The discussion then becomes a reaction to the Motion rather than an in depth discussion of the pro and cons of the agenda item.

That's what I saw, watching the meeting.

I would add, he is rude to council members he appears not to like, interrupting and criticizing them. Very authoritarian-parental. He thinks he is in charge, which is not appropriate for a chairman. City Attorney needs to speak to him.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jack G.
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2017 at 8:55 am

[Post removed.]

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