Retail and housing project approved in Ventura | News | Palo Alto Online |


Retail and housing project approved in Ventura

Sobrato development will bring 50 apartments, retail to site currently occupied by Mike's Bikes in Palo Alto

A two-building development featuring 50 apartments and retail space, will soon replace the Mike's Bikes shop on El Camino Real in Palo Alto -- the latest sign of change in the Ventura neighborhood.

The new development, which includes 19,800 square feet of retail space in addition to the apartments -- is the second mixed-use project on El Camino Real within walking distance of Oregon Expressway to win recent approval. In March 2016, the council gave the green light to a development with office space, condominiums and retail at 2755 El Camino Real, the former site of Olive Garden, and approved Stanford University's proposal to demolish and replace the six-story Brutalist building on El Camino and Page Mill Road.

And the neighborhood should expect an even more significant transformation in the coming years, when the city moves ahead with a "concept area plan" with a new land-use vision for "the Fry's site," a sprawling commercial campus off Portage Avenue commonly known for its anchor tenant.

The Sobrato Organization, which owns the underdeveloped campus, is also the developer behind 3001 El Camino Real, the project just west of Fry's that the council approved by an 8-0-1 vote, with Councilwoman Karen Holman abstaining. In approving the project, the council followed the lead of the Architecture Review Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission, each of which has also recommended approval.

The development consists of two buildings on the east side of El Camino, between Olive and Acacia avenues -- a site occupied by Mike's Bikes and surface parking lots. One of these would be four-stories tall, with retail, 30 apartments and 116 parking spaces in an underground garage. The other would have three stories with 20 units of housing and partially below-grade parking.

Similar to the two advisory panels, the council found much to like in the Sobrato development, which is designed by architect Rob Steinberg. Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, who made the motion to approve the proposal, noted that it conforms with all the zoning requirements and addresses the city's most critical need.

"We speak constantly about needing housing," Kniss said. "This is in a particular part of town that I think can use this type of housing very well."

Mayor Greg Scharff, who seconded her motion, lauded the project and said he was impressed by the fact that the planning commission gave it its unanimous support. He and others also praised the applicant for addressing the disparity between the proposed buildings and the single-story homes on Olive Avenue. Steinberg's design includes a larger setback than the zoning code allows and buildings that fall well short of the height limit.

"It seemed the applicant worked hard to pull the stuff back from the single-family neighborhood, which I think is important," Scharff said.

Other council members tempered their enthusiasm. Coucilman Tom DuBois was concerned about the "pedestrian hybrid beacon" proposed for the intersection of El Camino and Olive Avenue -- a pedestrian-activated device that flashes a red light when someone approaches the crosswalk. He questioned how this would affect traffic flow on El Camino.

Councilwoman Karen Holman was the only member to pan the design, suggesting that its lack of differentiation in entrances and roof segments makes the entire development look "monotonous." The city, she said, has been striving to "get away from projects that have that 'big block' feeling."

"For me, I think, buildings are friendlier to the community and friendlier to the passerby, if there's a deviation in setback, a deviation in roof height and roof form," Holman said. "It kind of gives it less of a monolithic kind of feel to it."

She also said she liked the fact that the new buildings respect zoning requirements and provide housing. Her ambivalence ultimately led her to take the rare step of abstaining from a vote on a new development.

In responding to her critique, Steinberg noted that the design team has had to follow three different sets of design guidelines, as well as directions from the Architectural Review Board.

"Design is not a science, it's an art. ... We tried our best and I think it's going to be a handsome addition to the city," Steinberg said.


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20 people like this
Posted by Wolf in sheep’s clothing
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 24, 2017 at 7:56 am

Definitely time for Holman to move on. Her virtually perfect record of trying to put the kabosh on any housing project she sees is no longer aligned with the goals of our city. She hides her disdain for growth and change under a thin veil of desire for historic preservation, sustainability or self-appointed design ability.

Get on board with where we’re re headed, or get out-of-the-way.

37 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2017 at 8:01 am

Calling these dense developments brutalist seems very apt to me. They are very brutal to the eye and also brutal to the culture of the neighborhood.

19 people like this
Posted by Wolf in sheep‘s clothing
a resident of Monroe Park
on Oct 24, 2017 at 8:21 am

Brutalist? Uuhhh, nope. Let me help you out…

“Bru·tal·ism (bro͞ot′l-ĭz′əm)
An architectural style of the mid-20th century characterized by massive or monolithic forms, usually of poured concrete and unrelieved by exterior decoration.”

These buildings, 35 feet high where adjacent to residential, and 50 feet high otherwise, fit within our zoning regulations and the comp plan guidelines. No exceptions. No concessions. Just a good project in the right place, providing housing we desperately need. It has enough service articulation and variation of material and color to break down the massing appropriately. I’m not 100% thrilled with all of the design, but I’ll take this over the eyesore it replaces any day.

38 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

more ugly on El Camino. I'm really glad that I don't live too close to El Camino.

13 people like this
Posted by Spiteful
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 24, 2017 at 10:55 am

Wolf- spot on about holman. Against every project just out of spite. Completely clueless about what the city needs. And when she does push for something it ends up a disaster - the bike bridge over 101.

And really dubois you want to put the kibosh on the project because of a crossing signal?

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2017 at 1:16 pm

I know very little about architecture. I have a lot of experience with brutes and brutish behavior. I know when something is brutal.

The type of pack and stack architecture definitely looks brutal to my eye.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2017 at 1:18 pm

And for anyone who wants a dictionary definition of brute, here it is.

noun: brute; plural noun: brutes

a savagely violent person or animal.
"he was a cold-blooded brute"
synonyms: savage, beast, monster, animal, barbarian, fiend, ogre; More
thug, lout, ruffian;
informalhardman, swine, pig
"a callous brute"
a cruel, unpleasant, or insensitive person.
"what an unfeeling little brute you are"
an animal as opposed to a human being.
something awkward, difficult, or unpleasant.
"a great brute of a machine"

adjective: brute

unreasoning and animallike.
"a brute struggle for social superiority"

10 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 24, 2017 at 7:55 pm

It is not just Holman but some of the commenters here that have lost their common sense. Where do they propose building housing if not here?

17 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2017 at 7:29 pm

This city no longer cares about its citizens and what they think.
The Sardine can buildings and lousy architecture has ruined our town.
Birge Clark would not be impressed..

6 people like this
Posted by Homeowner for housing
a resident of University South
on Oct 27, 2017 at 5:11 pm

It's great to see some new housing in town, especially when it comes with retail. Nice work!

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2017 at 2:39 pm

It is not going to get better, every city is mandated by the Association of Bay Area Governments to add more high density housing and offer less parking so people get out of their cars.

It's time to leave this crazy area, just 2 1/2 hours North of SF is the peaceful community of Lakeport, CA.

Come see the Pelicans, Cormorants, Egrets and Swans right outside your window. Lakeport has the cleanest air in the state and has the Bass Capital of California Title for sports fishing. Lakeport has also become the new Napa with it's outstanding wineries.

4190 Lakeshore Blvd. Lakeport, CA 95453 is only $335K.
Web Link

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