News

New plans envision housing, retail at former Fry's site

Ambitious options come with buzz-killing caveat: Property owner indicates no interest in residential redevelopment

With Fry's Electronics closing in Palo Alto last week after three decades of supplying local techies, the city has no shortage of ideas for improving the central and much-studied site in the Ventura neighborhood.

From beer gardens and makerspaces to townhomes and apartment buildings, the latest concept plans for what's known as "Fry's site," proposed by consultant Perkins & Will, aim to find something for just about everyone in the planning process to like — or gripe about. Reflecting the desire of Ventura residents for less through-traffic, the plans include new bike paths, less street-level parking and new pedestrian-oriented corridors lined with retail. For those concerned about Palo Alto's housing shortage, it proposes adding an entirely new residential neighborhood south and west of the Fry's building at 340 Portage Ave. And for those who want to see the Fry's building — an early 20th century cannery — retained, it offers an alternative that would do exactly that and effectively build around the industrial structure.

But for all of their goals and ambitions, the plans come with a buzz-killing caveat. Because the city doesn't own the site, it has little control over what — if anything — can be built here. The Fry's property owner, The Sobrato Organization, recently indicated that it has no interest in redeveloping the site for residential use, putting a dent in the city's plan to have more than 250 housing units.

That has not, however, kept the city from moving ahead with what's known as the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a vision document that a group of city leaders and neighborhood stakeholders has been working on since fall 2018. That effort hit a milestone last month, when Perkins & Will released three alternatives for the 60-acre planning area, which is roughly bounded by Page Mill Road, Lambert Avenue, El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks. Click here for visuals of each alternative.

The alternatives, which were presented to the Working Group on Dec. 5, recognize the various wild cards surrounding the Ventura planning process, including an utter lack of consensus about what should be done with the Fry's building. The plans each address the five major issues that the consulting group said concerned community members: district character, traffic circulation, housing types, open space and ground-floor uses and programming.

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Under the first of the three alternatives, the 1918 building would be retained in its entirety and complemented with new developments for retail and housing. Known as the "Leading with Legacy" alternative, it calls for concentrating most of the new housing south and west of the preserved Fry's building, near the corner of El Camino Real and Lambert Avenue. The developments would effectively create a new neighborhood that would be bisected by Portage Avenue.

The street grid in this scenario would be modified to prevent cut-through traffic on Portage Avenue between El Camino and Park Boulevard and to keep car traffic at the edge of the neighborhood. New retail would front both sides of Portage from El Camino almost to Ash Street.

The second alternative, called "Adaptive Core," aims to strike a middle path by preserving a portion of the former cannery and disassembling other parts of it. As an example, consultants pointed to Drake's Dealership in Oakland, where a roof was removed from an old auto dealership to create a beer garden, and The Barlow in Sebastopol, an outdoor marketplace at a former applesauce cannery.

In the Ventura alternative, the semi-developed "flex space" of the former cannery building could be converted to host outdoor movies, a play space or a farmers market, consultants say.

Much like in the first alternative, the site would cut down on automobile access, with limited entry from the Park Boulevard side and no cut-through access on Portage through to Park. Cars coming in from El Camino would be limited to a horseshoe shaped route on Portage and Acacia avenues and an exit onto Ash.

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The third and most ambitious of the options would do away with the Fry's building entirely and create what the consultants call a "robust mixed-use and diverse community." The plan would maximize housing and propose housing sites beyond those identified in the city's Comprehensive Plan, its guiding land-use document. Known as "Designed Diversity," the third alternative calls the most street-level uses, including "neighborhood-serving retail, community use, small office, creative lab and maker space."

The third alternative also calls for adding office space as well as additional residential projects on the northernmost portion of the property, a currently vacant area near the intersection of Page Mill and Park.

The plans remain highly conceptual, with no specifics about how much residential or commercial development any of the alternatives would accommodate. Given that limitation, some members of the Working Group have criticized the plan for being either too good to be true or simply not good enough.

Terry Holzemer, who lives close to the Ventura area, has persistently argued that the Fry's building should be preserved because of its historic value. It is probably "the most intact cannery site structure that still exists in the Bay Area," he said.

"If you don't have any concept of what this valley was long before any silicon chip was ever made, they should go back and read their history," Holzemer said. "I have. I know the significance of this building."

Doria Summa, a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, called some of the ideas "pie-in-the-sky" and argued that it's tough to choose between the alternatives without having any data or any information about the zoning laws that would need to be changed to accommodate the proposed amenities.

"I was hoping to have more definitive data at this point and more realistic data on some of the city laws and state laws that we are contemplating violating when we talk about this," Summa said.

Assistant Planning Director Rachael Tanner said many of the answers group members are hoping to see, including the impacts of adding the new developments, would be analyzed through the environmental review process and considered at later meetings. While existing zoning laws may limit options for development, the City Council has the power to change them if it agrees to adopt a new vision for the Ventura properties.

Tanner also noted that state laws prohibit the city from planning for fewer than 354 units in the Ventura area — the amount that currently exists.

"We don't want the unit count to get below 354, otherwise we have to find another place in the city where those housing units can be placed," Tanner said.

Lund Smith -- a member of the Working Group whose family's company, WSJ Properties, owns nine buildings along Olive Avenue -- noted that the city can make an even bigger impact on housing by considering the parcels along Olive, which are currently dominated by single-family homes. While none of the three alternatives propose redeveloping Olive Avenue, Smith said this should not be excluded from consideration.

"You can accumulate some of the parcels on Olive to do something more significant, if we want to make a bigger dent on housing," Smith said.

The stakeholder group plans to continue its discussion of the three alternatives at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 21. Gail Price, a former city councilwoman who now serves on the Working Group, called the alternatives "a good start."

"We are aware that there will be a more robust conversation about density, development standards and the issues of housing types and locations. ... That is an extremely critical conversation," Price said on Dec. 5.

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New plans envision housing, retail at former Fry's site

Ambitious options come with buzz-killing caveat: Property owner indicates no interest in residential redevelopment

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 1, 2020, 8:33 am
Updated: Thu, Jan 2, 2020, 8:37 am

With Fry's Electronics closing in Palo Alto last week after three decades of supplying local techies, the city has no shortage of ideas for improving the central and much-studied site in the Ventura neighborhood.

From beer gardens and makerspaces to townhomes and apartment buildings, the latest concept plans for what's known as "Fry's site," proposed by consultant Perkins & Will, aim to find something for just about everyone in the planning process to like — or gripe about. Reflecting the desire of Ventura residents for less through-traffic, the plans include new bike paths, less street-level parking and new pedestrian-oriented corridors lined with retail. For those concerned about Palo Alto's housing shortage, it proposes adding an entirely new residential neighborhood south and west of the Fry's building at 340 Portage Ave. And for those who want to see the Fry's building — an early 20th century cannery — retained, it offers an alternative that would do exactly that and effectively build around the industrial structure.

But for all of their goals and ambitions, the plans come with a buzz-killing caveat. Because the city doesn't own the site, it has little control over what — if anything — can be built here. The Fry's property owner, The Sobrato Organization, recently indicated that it has no interest in redeveloping the site for residential use, putting a dent in the city's plan to have more than 250 housing units.

That has not, however, kept the city from moving ahead with what's known as the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, a vision document that a group of city leaders and neighborhood stakeholders has been working on since fall 2018. That effort hit a milestone last month, when Perkins & Will released three alternatives for the 60-acre planning area, which is roughly bounded by Page Mill Road, Lambert Avenue, El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks. Click here for visuals of each alternative.

The alternatives, which were presented to the Working Group on Dec. 5, recognize the various wild cards surrounding the Ventura planning process, including an utter lack of consensus about what should be done with the Fry's building. The plans each address the five major issues that the consulting group said concerned community members: district character, traffic circulation, housing types, open space and ground-floor uses and programming.

Under the first of the three alternatives, the 1918 building would be retained in its entirety and complemented with new developments for retail and housing. Known as the "Leading with Legacy" alternative, it calls for concentrating most of the new housing south and west of the preserved Fry's building, near the corner of El Camino Real and Lambert Avenue. The developments would effectively create a new neighborhood that would be bisected by Portage Avenue.

The street grid in this scenario would be modified to prevent cut-through traffic on Portage Avenue between El Camino and Park Boulevard and to keep car traffic at the edge of the neighborhood. New retail would front both sides of Portage from El Camino almost to Ash Street.

The second alternative, called "Adaptive Core," aims to strike a middle path by preserving a portion of the former cannery and disassembling other parts of it. As an example, consultants pointed to Drake's Dealership in Oakland, where a roof was removed from an old auto dealership to create a beer garden, and The Barlow in Sebastopol, an outdoor marketplace at a former applesauce cannery.

In the Ventura alternative, the semi-developed "flex space" of the former cannery building could be converted to host outdoor movies, a play space or a farmers market, consultants say.

Much like in the first alternative, the site would cut down on automobile access, with limited entry from the Park Boulevard side and no cut-through access on Portage through to Park. Cars coming in from El Camino would be limited to a horseshoe shaped route on Portage and Acacia avenues and an exit onto Ash.

The third and most ambitious of the options would do away with the Fry's building entirely and create what the consultants call a "robust mixed-use and diverse community." The plan would maximize housing and propose housing sites beyond those identified in the city's Comprehensive Plan, its guiding land-use document. Known as "Designed Diversity," the third alternative calls the most street-level uses, including "neighborhood-serving retail, community use, small office, creative lab and maker space."

The third alternative also calls for adding office space as well as additional residential projects on the northernmost portion of the property, a currently vacant area near the intersection of Page Mill and Park.

The plans remain highly conceptual, with no specifics about how much residential or commercial development any of the alternatives would accommodate. Given that limitation, some members of the Working Group have criticized the plan for being either too good to be true or simply not good enough.

Terry Holzemer, who lives close to the Ventura area, has persistently argued that the Fry's building should be preserved because of its historic value. It is probably "the most intact cannery site structure that still exists in the Bay Area," he said.

"If you don't have any concept of what this valley was long before any silicon chip was ever made, they should go back and read their history," Holzemer said. "I have. I know the significance of this building."

Doria Summa, a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, called some of the ideas "pie-in-the-sky" and argued that it's tough to choose between the alternatives without having any data or any information about the zoning laws that would need to be changed to accommodate the proposed amenities.

"I was hoping to have more definitive data at this point and more realistic data on some of the city laws and state laws that we are contemplating violating when we talk about this," Summa said.

Assistant Planning Director Rachael Tanner said many of the answers group members are hoping to see, including the impacts of adding the new developments, would be analyzed through the environmental review process and considered at later meetings. While existing zoning laws may limit options for development, the City Council has the power to change them if it agrees to adopt a new vision for the Ventura properties.

Tanner also noted that state laws prohibit the city from planning for fewer than 354 units in the Ventura area — the amount that currently exists.

"We don't want the unit count to get below 354, otherwise we have to find another place in the city where those housing units can be placed," Tanner said.

Lund Smith -- a member of the Working Group whose family's company, WSJ Properties, owns nine buildings along Olive Avenue -- noted that the city can make an even bigger impact on housing by considering the parcels along Olive, which are currently dominated by single-family homes. While none of the three alternatives propose redeveloping Olive Avenue, Smith said this should not be excluded from consideration.

"You can accumulate some of the parcels on Olive to do something more significant, if we want to make a bigger dent on housing," Smith said.

The stakeholder group plans to continue its discussion of the three alternatives at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 21. Gail Price, a former city councilwoman who now serves on the Working Group, called the alternatives "a good start."

"We are aware that there will be a more robust conversation about density, development standards and the issues of housing types and locations. ... That is an extremely critical conversation," Price said on Dec. 5.

Comments

Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:12 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:12 am

What isn't quite clear to me is whether all this is just the site of the building and parking lot, or whether it takes other adjacent space into the mix. From the way I see it, Fry's was always rather difficult to access from both ECR and Park was never easy to exit.


Rezone
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:59 am
Rezone, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:59 am

The last thing we need is a huge office complex at the Fry's site. If the city council is serious about housing they could just rezone it for multi family residential only.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:13 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:13 am

"They" want housing. We hear it over and over and over. Add a little park, add a monument for the Cannery, and the rest -- housing. 100% housing. No more office space. No "public benefit." Just *housing* like "they" keep telling us they need. No fake public benefits. Housing, housing, housing.

-No more office space!-


parent
Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:27 am
parent, Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:27 am

If they are going to build more retail in that area, I hope the city finally builds an ADA-compliant pedestrian bridge over train tracks from Midtown to Fry's site, possibly at the end of Colorado Ave. They have been talking about this for decades. There is way to much car traffic in that area already and the city needs to encourage customers to visit on foot or by bicycle.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:50 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:50 am

How many BMR units are planned?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:50 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:50 am

>> If they are going to build more retail in that area,

Beware. Retail has a way of turning into office space. Nobody can afford to build new space for retail today -- the rent on new construction is too high for most retail businesses to make a profit.


Don
Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:05 am
Don, Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:05 am

I find all of the “planning” activities to be totally amusing since nobody involved the current owners of the Fry’s building and huge parking lot! This whole activity is wishful thinking at best, if you want housing price to the existing owners that is the best ROI. Cash talks. Get a grip folks, building $2M condo’s at Fry’s is not going to solve the pslonslto housing problem.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:27 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:27 am

Posted by Don, a resident of Midtown

>> I find all of the “planning” activities to be totally amusing since nobody involved the current owners of the Fry’s building and huge parking lot! This whole activity is wishful thinking at best,

I don't know if anybody has "involved" Sobrato, but, I agree that if Sobrato isn't interested, a "planning" activity is worse than a waste of time and money-- it is a distraction or deflection. We need to face this head-on. We don't want or need office space on that site.

>> if you want housing price to the existing owners that is the best ROI. Cash talks. Get a grip folks, building $2M condo’s at Fry’s is not going to solve the pslonslto housing problem.

Getting a grip is exactly what the discussion is about. We need to get a grip on developers who include expected upzoning in their ROI calculations. We need to get a grip on fake public benefits that sneak in more office space. We need housing, not more office space. No upzoning, no fake benefits, no new office space. Housing. I don't favor "retail" either, because, unless there is something in the development agreement that has extraordinarily big teeth, there is no way to prevent the "retail" from turning into office space at some convenient later date. (The "intentions" of a developer or owner don't count -- when the property is sold, or there is a "strategic bankruptcy", or some other legal maneuver, the intentions disappear. It has to be some kind of unbreakable lien. Our city lawyers are not going to be in a position to outmaneuver corporate lawyers in the future.)

So, yes, let's get a grip. Housing.


Neighbor
Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:38 am
Neighbor, Midtown
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:38 am
Independent
Esther Clark Park
on Jan 1, 2020 at 12:03 pm
Independent, Esther Clark Park
on Jan 1, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Interesting. All these posts ignore that a private entity owns the parcel and has expressed little to no interest in building housing. Put up or shut up. Using these posters' dollars, the city can buy the parcel and build housing then.



Realist
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Realist, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2020 at 12:27 pm

They forgot the bumper to bumper cars in the rosy image, but they did remember to show the future of absolutely no disabled people because of all the building with density being used as a false false false proxy for other utopian goals which actually shuts the disabled out and has been for years.

Note sidewalks the disabled could never run their wheelchairs along and roads that are so choked off on purpose, their already compromised time and energy are burdened to the point of ruining lives.

I wish South Palo Altans would secede so that this are could be turned into walkable community space we desperately need since we’re paying for amenities mostly on the north and government on the north that is pretty inaccessible to us now with the traffic from OVERBUILDING.




Trygve Moy
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 1, 2020 at 2:24 pm
Trygve Moy, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 1, 2020 at 2:24 pm

We actually need LESS housing in Palo Alto not more housing. Quality of life has been drastically reduced due to more housing which translates into more traffic and pollution. Reduce housing.


Stephen
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 2:57 pm
Stephen, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Independent: Yes it is a private entity that owns the property and yes they can do anything they want with the property.. so long as it is consistent with the zoning, which is RM30. Per Palo Alto's zoning ordinance, no retail or office uses are permitted by RM30. So, pretty much the only thing they can do is to build residences at 16 to 30 dwelling units per acre. So unless our planning and city council folks cave on the zoning, it looks to be housing, affordable or not.


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 3:16 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 3:16 pm

I support “fairly dense” housing (I admit to being vague) provided the development provides full parking for vehicles and bicycles. The location doesn’t scream “luxury” but rather, practical, mid- range. This would help our overall housing shortage situation.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 1, 2020 at 7:25 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 1, 2020 at 7:25 pm

Palo Alto can absolutely control what is build on this site. It is called zoning. And this site has long been zoned for housing. The current commercial use is non-conforming.

Sobrato only bought the site a few years ago so they knew full well what they were buying. Why doesn't the current non-conforming space have a sunset clause? As has been done with so many other previously non-conforming areas in Palo Alto.

This site is a precious resource. The last remaining large undeveloped area in Palo Alto zoned multi- residential which can accommodate a substantial amount of new housing. There will be a need for housing into the foreseeable future and this is what this area should continue to be zoned for.

Whether the current owner uses what could almost be considered blackmail by threatening not to build anything if they can't get the zoning changed to suit them. Did Sobrato gamble and pay too much assuming they had the influence with certain council members to get this property specially up-zoned for their financial benefit? If so, that is not on us.


ac
Mountain View
on Jan 1, 2020 at 7:57 pm
ac, Mountain View
on Jan 1, 2020 at 7:57 pm

Palo Alto can absolutely control what is build on this site. It is called zoning. Yes, I recall PA trading land zones to build offices? and that Frys location would become Housing. However that was years ago and I see many apt off El Camino where Commercial space use to be.

It was always a poor place for retail but a large parking area and dedicated shoppers made it work OK. Housing may be more preferred than office space. What the final size needs to be economical feasible. Note Frys does not occupy the back half or the north portion of the building.


Independent
Esther Clark Park
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:40 pm
Independent, Esther Clark Park
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:40 pm

@Stephen - I've been to Fry's. I assume others have too. It wasn't housing. Seems odd then that a historic cannery, and subsequently a commercial store were both run on a site zoned for housing.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:22 pm
Samuel L., Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:22 pm

Why is the city spending money on consultants to devise plans for land that isn't owned by the city? Wont the owners of.the site hire their own architects and planners to come up with a design that the city can approve/deny/suggest changes?

Isn't this the equivalent of me hiring a landscape architect to develop plans for my neighbor's yard because I'd really like to live next to different vegetation?


musical
Palo Verde
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:27 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:27 pm

If we are going "mixed-use", how about our own Santana Row? Carve up everything from Park to El Camino, and Lambert to Olive, it's nearly the same size. Santana Row website says they offer 615 apartment units. We can have our tax base and eat it too.


Stephen
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:51 pm
Stephen, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2020 at 10:51 pm

Independent: I assume that the current (or now recent) usage was grandfathered in. The current PA zoning map shows it as RM30. See Web Link


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 8:52 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 8:52 am

Posted by Stephen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> I assume that the current (or now recent) usage was grandfathered in. The current PA zoning map shows it as RM30. See Web Link

Yes, this was all decided around 30 years ago. Check the Weekly archive for the exact dates. Even then, the wisdom of having reasonably high-density housing near Caltrain/transit and the Cal Ave business district was in evidence. IIRC, the deadline of 2019 was set back when this was all revisited was around 2006 or so. Fry's was pursued as a tax stopgap because it was a sales tax generator and the city was desperate for revenue before the surge in home prices made property tax back on the front burner.

Fry's itself liked being at the site way back when. Ideas of mixed-use were talked about then, where Fry's could be part of the mix. Even as recently as 2006 or so. If the timeline actually matters, I would guess John Barton, Doug Moran, and Fred Balin could put it together. Then came Amazon. Then, the app boom. Now, nobody can pay the rent on new retail space, sales tax revenue would be minimal, and, developers want more and more office space. But, the city still could use a little more housing within easy walking distance of Caltrain, and, absolutely does not need a single square foot more office space. RM-30 sounds pretty good to me, and, it happens to be the "plan of record" as far as I know.


Chris
University South
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm
Chris, University South
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Sobrato definitely does not want to leave the property as is. They just have to wait out the change in City Council after residents become disgusted with a dilapidated eyesore because if their anti-housing views.


musical
Palo Verde
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:36 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:36 pm

^ It's still not clear to me why we'd need housing within easy walking distance of Caltrain. Are we really trying to house people who commute elsewhere to work, or do locals use Caltrain to go buy groceries?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:51 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:51 pm

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South

>> Sobrato definitely does not want to leave the property as is. They just have to wait out the change in City Council after residents become disgusted with a dilapidated eyesore because if their anti-housing views.

Everybody I know would much rather have an interesting, historically significant building than another cookie-cutter postmodern office building packet with a rat's-nest of cubicles. Which is what will happen if the developer is allowed to change the zoning. Don't be fooled by "mixed-use" developments that make things worse.

What we actually are *disgusted* by are developers who purchase property with residential zoning, and then who talk their way into up-zoning to a "mixed-use" development that actually creates more jobs than the corresponding housing, and makes the housing deficit worse.

If the choice is an old cannery, or, offices, I'll gladly take the old cannery. We could make it into a museum and celebrate early canning in the valley. Ever been to the "Rose the Riveter" museum in Richmond? Web Link. Coincidentally, there is a lot of *housing* adjacent to the museum on those old industrial sites which once built Liberty and Victory ships.




@musical
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2020 at 1:04 pm
@musical, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 2, 2020 at 1:04 pm

Some ideas: Proximity to Caltrain helps with two-job households, job changes, and jobs that require you to travel. But I think it's also the case that people who work in the city often prefer to live in the burbs once they have kids for schools, space, and general quality of life (cleaner, quieter, greener).


Wait A Second
Midtown
on Jan 2, 2020 at 1:51 pm
Wait A Second, Midtown
on Jan 2, 2020 at 1:51 pm

Before you run to tos the big bad developer Sobrato under the bus for not being sensitive to the community.

Please recognize that the Sobrato family is the LARGEST philanthropic organization in the Bay Area. They have

Web Link


Carolyn
Downtown North
on Jan 2, 2020 at 3:33 pm
Carolyn, Downtown North
on Jan 2, 2020 at 3:33 pm

HOUSING HOUSING HOUSING! Small unit, dense, very limited parking. These are the well-paid workers we want to have eating and shopping on Cal Ave. Can you imagine the awesome business and community impact that 300+ housing units could have? I can. This is right along Caltrain and could house several hundred workers who currently DRIVE into the area for work. Walking/biking to jobs would be amazing from this site.

Do not complain about traffic or loss of our retail and commercial services if you do not support high-density housing.


pmarca
Stanford
on Jan 2, 2020 at 4:06 pm
pmarca, Stanford
on Jan 2, 2020 at 4:06 pm

The "right" thing to do is to create a high-density mixed use development with emphasis on:

* Tall buildings that leverage land and create open space

* includes underground and/or deck parking

* Lots of housing

* Office with emphasis on smaller companies (ie startups)

* Ground level retail and dining

* Open space (includes covered outdoor areas for dining)

For those interested in the historic nature of the old building, take a photo, then demolish the building, build a tall structure in its place.

Tall means over 10 stories (in most cities, tall means even more).

Palo Alto should urge Sobrato to redevelop the property with housing or ask them to sell it to someone who will.

We need to stop thinking properties are either this or that. We need all developments to be mixed-use where possible to increase land use, efficiency and decrease transit.

Palo Alto should also identify other parcels that can be redeveloped into tall, mixed-use, parking included sites.

And, most importantly, we should oust any elected official who wants to cling to the status-quo or past.

We are in a crisis and must adapt to reality and the future.

Ready, set, go.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 4:57 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 4:57 pm

Posted by pmarca, a resident of Stanford

>> The "right" thing to do is to create a high-density mixed use development with emphasis on:

>> * Tall buildings that leverage land and create open space

-Why- is it the right thing to do? Because your personal taste runs to skyscrapers? Mine doesn't. But, as I have posted references to before, tall buildings waste energy. How do you plan to get all the people who live in Tracy over here to your tall office buildings? There is NO MORAL IMPERATIVE to build skyscrapers. They waste energy.
All they do is feed the egos of CEOs and the bank accounts of developers.

>> * Office with emphasis on smaller companies (ie startups)

No more office space! We don't want it. New office space just brings in new highway commuters and new traffic. We are drowning in traffic already. Just travel down Page Mill/Oregon towards 101 any weekday after 2 PM.

>> We are in a crisis and must adapt to reality and the future.

The crisis we face is climate change. We need to build highly energy-efficient buildings with highly energy-efficient transportation-- the opposite of the skyscrapers inevitably fed by cars today.


ADifferentRoute
Midtown
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:05 pm
ADifferentRoute, Midtown
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:05 pm

Seems to me that some 10 years ago (2005 in Conn.) the city of New London wanted (re-)development of a particular kind on a privately owned parcel took that parcel by eminent domain, then sold it to a developer who would build what the city wanted built. The case went to the State Supreme Court which ruled for the city, then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which also ruled in favor of the city. See link Web Link).

I'm not particularly in favor of that solution, but ...
And, as others have said, if we really want housing, just enforce the current zoning.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:29 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Posted by Wait A Second, a resident of Midtown

>> Before you run to tos the big bad developer Sobrato under the bus for not being sensitive to the community.

If Sobrato is as public-spirited as you say, I'm sure they will be proposing a new development soon that will consist of affordable housing that is in accordance with the existing zoning.


Bill
Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2020 at 7:54 pm
Bill , Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2020 at 7:54 pm

Forget saving that dump of a building... it's never been all that, and anyone who tries to tell you it has historical value is gaslighting us. Tear it down and build housing. We so, so badly need housing in this state and the Plan as it stands today is far too wimpy in that regard. And really, beer gardens and maker spaces? Spare us. We need HOUSING!


Books
Community Center
on Jan 3, 2020 at 12:46 am
Books, Community Center
on Jan 3, 2020 at 12:46 am

Maybe the largest lessor of space in PA, Amazon is going to use it as a delivery center. The parking is great for all the queue of delivery vans and the storage space will allow for lots of stock ready for consumers to get their deliveries within the hour! Marvelous!!


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 9:36 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 9:36 am

Posted by ADifferentRoute, a resident of Midtown

>> Seems to me that some 10 years ago (2005 in Conn.) the city of New London wanted (re-)development of a particular kind on a privately owned parcel took that parcel by eminent domain, See link Web Link).

The circumstances would be almost the inverse of *Kelo*. But, to me, the real issue is that Sobrato probably paid too much for the property if it actually is be developed RM-30, or, any variation thereof that doesn't include new office space. I wonder if there is some way for us, out in public here, to find out how much Sobrato has put into the Fry's and adjacent properties, and if the value paid appears to have upzoning already built in.

I>> 'm not particularly in favor of that solution, but ...

Me neither. A variation could possibly work, though. The city could acquire the property through eminent domain and then cut a deal with one of the local property-management non-profits to build and operate mixed-income housing on that site. (Low income subsidized + BMR + middle-income market rate). There are several non-profits around that do partnerships with private builders. The city retains title to the dirt, but, has long-term leases with the non-profit. Let's just make sure that the development is near net-zero energy. "Redwood Energy", the company that presented at the energy faire, has a lot of experience helping design energy-efficient housing developments from low- to high-end.

>> And, as others have said, if we really want housing, just enforce the current zoning.

That seems the simplest solution. Just follow the zoning. I'm tired of "housing" developments that just keep digging the city deeper into its housing deficit.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 3, 2020 at 10:28 am
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 3, 2020 at 10:28 am

I’ve been following this for probably 10 years. This is perfect deep state Palo alto evidence. I advocated a 7 acre park on 14 acres of Fry’s before I knew that insiders were dealing to expand their zoning density through a much wider swath of Ventura.
I used to imagine the Oakland Raiders would move there: The Oakland Raiders Of Palo Alto, Ventura Yo. (TORPAVYO — you can learn to say it until it becomes catchy — better idea than what we’ve done instead).
I’d like to see a monument to Danny McAllister one of the first black quarterbacks in Palo Alto, who lived nearby.


News Flash!
Mayfield
on Jan 3, 2020 at 1:27 pm
News Flash!, Mayfield
on Jan 3, 2020 at 1:27 pm

"Ambitious options come with buzz-killing caveat: Property owner indicates no interest in residential redevelopment."

!News Flash!: Property owner shouldn't have purchased a property zoned RM-30!

Under RM-30 only multi-family residential uses are allowed unless Council allows change to zoning. The City has complete control over the redevelopment of the site. It will either be exclusively residential or some combination of mixed use that the Council supports/approves. Otherwise tell the developer to go pound sand! They can sell the property at a value based on redevelopment as multi-family residential to a developer who can get the job done.


Neighbor
Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2020 at 1:51 pm
Neighbor, Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2020 at 1:51 pm

The only "leverage" the Sobrato Organization may have is to say they will leave the site as is (vacant commercial buildings) until the City allows them to build something other than what the site is zoned for (housing). Perhaps they figure it is win win scenario. If the City doesn't bend to their demands and they don't redevelop perhaps they can sell for a higher price (Due to property value appreciation) at a later date for return on investment. They ain't making anymore 60 acre redevelopment sites in Palo Alto!

More likely there stance is just the opening salvo in the negotiations with the City over the site. The City's response should be the opposite extreme: We will not change the zoning, so if you want to redevelop (and earn a return on your investment) you will propose only multi family housing. Once Sobrato gets the message loud and clear they can come up with a more rrwasonable proposal (on their dime).


Realist
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 3:13 pm
Realist , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 3:13 pm

Zoning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The zoning designations were made with the entirety of the City in mind including traffic circulation and safety. It’s relevant that Palo Alto has overdeveloped in a Laisser-faire faire way without regards to the infrastructure. RM-40 might have once made sense there, but now it makes far more sense to have community space for the broader area (and some multi family housing).

Stanford learned this lesson the hard way. No one is an island, especially not with the Bay Area experiencing so much demand.

One thing that does need to be said is that this area has always been too expensive to apply ordinary equations for housing affordability based on salary. Even during busts and recessions. Even when demand is low and office space or rentals go empty. During the last down cycle with a lot of office space vacancies, owners didn’t want to fill spaces they just left them empty for the next up you lie to avoid lowering rent

People need to realize that building new things here raises prices, period. There will be no decrease from overbuilding, just problems. Look at San Francisco. It has fundamentally transformed from building. Has it produced low-income housing stock? No., it has displaced low income people. That’s what happens everywhere under such conditions.

We must come to grips with the reality that clustering tech should find places to grow where there can be holistic planning according to their utopian desires, and where growing doesn’t involve mindlessly crushing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who sacrificed to put down roots here. We will always have Stanford to generate startups, and in fact, moving companies away would make Palo Alto safe for those startups again

The housing crisis is completely a demand side problem and no amount of foolish UNSAFE building will solve it here. The only way to improve things is
1) (this according to a housing advocate relative) tax the companies a LOT more per head for the large ones until they decide to move, or
2) get the state to invest in communities that want to be the tech utopia the giants want. Stockton, for example, really wants a UC campus, there is plenty of affordable housing, and opportunities for civic investment. In the case of overpopulated CA, if you build it, they will come
3). Lots of SoCsl communities have seen better days and there are opportunities there.

Convert office space to housing. Include the infrastructure in the equation. Stop making absurd and false claims about housing near transit reducing prices or traffic or people living near jobs. Hong Kong proved it doesn’t work.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 3:19 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2020 at 3:19 pm

I would actually be in favor of housing in this location with some caveat.

Any housing would have to be designed as family housing, not mini rabbit hutches, with space for outdoor activities for either each individual unit or for several units as a group.

Any housing should have ample parking space for each unit with space for group guest parking.

Some type of pedestrian tunnel/bridge across Caltrain and Alma.


Who paid for plans?
Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2020 at 12:25 am
Who paid for plans?, Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2020 at 12:25 am

The plans that were prepared were paid for with a state or regional grant and not City funds? Correct?


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 6, 2020 at 1:13 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 6, 2020 at 1:13 am

The Sobratos hang out with the Pelosi's and Governor. They turn up at the same events. If the Sobratos build anything other than housing then that is a slap in the face. The Gov has a requirement that he is falling short on. They can fit four condo structures on that site - each with different size units so they can have different pricing. They can check all of the boxes for near transportation. They can have a bike lane going to PAHS and Gunn. They can specify for teachers, city workers in some of the units so we can check the box on that problem.
Note that in Redwood City one new apartment complex is owned by SU and is for SU personnel. Redwood City is building and addressing problems in a fast manner. Can we also please get on with this?


Becky Sanders
Registered user
Ventura
on Jan 7, 2020 at 7:03 am
Becky Sanders, Ventura
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2020 at 7:03 am


Thank you Gennady, for writing this article and providing the links. I took December off and am now catching up on my reading.

There is an eye-popping phrase in Alternative 3 on page 7 of the Perkins and Will report which was presented to the Working Group in December:
Web Link

Alternative 3 calls for more density and massing apparently, but would

“Limit the number of tall buildings (85’)”

This is essentially 8 stories! How did that tidbit slip in there?

The Housing Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan - the city’s planning document - allocates 354 new housing units to Fry’s. Fry’s is already zoned for 30 units an acre (RM-30 - medium density, multi-family residence district). Under the current zoning, there is MORE than enough space to meet that allocation. So we don’t need upzoning to provide housing. That point is not made clear anywhere in the report that I can see and is misleading.

Not only is an 8 story building unnecessary to meet the housing allocation, it is grossly out of proportion to nearby buildings. All nearby commercial and residential buildings adhere to the 50-foot height limit. Below is a link to the map. One can imagine that an 8 story building presiding over the nearby 3 story buildings, would be like Godzilla trashing Tokyo. An important design concept currently used in our city is to limit new buildings in height and massing and maintain reasonable proportion to nearby properties. That’s good zoning.

Web Link

Lest my memory deceive me, I reviewed the results of a painstaking survey conducted by the Ventura Neighborhood Association last Spring. 51 residents answered the survey. The survey was developed by association members and overseen by Angela Dellaporta who is now serving as Co-Chair of NVCAP. Angela wanted to get a sense of what the neighborhood wanted in order to represent its views. The majority of respondents wanted no new office space, community-serving retail, a walkable, bikeable, family-friendly neighborhood with green space. As far as high rises were concerned, there was no explicit recommendation of any kind to exceed current building standards. However, one respondent specifically added that they would be willing to see 5 floors if that would provide more green space. Additionally, the majority of respondents wanted to see at least 20 percent of the new housing allocated for below-market-rate, which is what we desperately need in Palo Alto. I understand we are meeting/exceeding our housing targets at higher prices.

Alternative 3 as outlined in the Perkins and Will report is exactly what the neighborhood does not want. I found this truly disturbing.

If the majority of residents in Palo Alto suddenly decide that looking more like Redwood City and San Francisco is what they want, then that is one thing, but if the NVCAP planning process is hijacked to provide more profits for the vested interests over the public good, then that is unacceptable.

As PTC Commissioner and Working Group member Doria Summa points out in this article, where is the data that has been promised the working group but which has not been provided? How can the working group do its job without the data it needs?

Sobrato, by the way, has known for forever that the site is zoned RM-30, that commercial development is not an option under the current zoning. If Sobrato does not want to develop the property given its zoning, then that’s their decision. Are they counting on the City changing the zoning to suit the owners? Past councils have done so. Will the current council do this to us as well? We in Ventura certainly hope not.

If Sobrato does not want to develop the property, they should sell it to someone who does and invest their money elsewhere.

If this topic is of interest to you, here are some ideas:
1. Come to tonight’s NVCAP meeting, fill out a speaker card and speak during Oral Communications.
5:30 - 8:30 pm. City Hall Community Meeting Room - right off the lobby.
2. Come to January 21 meeting and speak during Oral Communications, same time and location.
3. Write a letter to Assistant Planning Director [email protected] expressing your opinion and your email will be forward to the working group members
4. Seek out your neighborhood association and become more plugged in to what's happening in general






Becky Sanders
Registered user
Ventura
on Jan 7, 2020 at 2:19 pm
Becky Sanders, Ventura
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2020 at 2:19 pm

I’ve been in touch with city staff and they wanted me to know and for all of us to know that 85 foot buildings are not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination, that this line of “no higher than 85 feet” was just one of the things the consultants had heard.

So on re-read, if that is the case, I believe that the document is misleading and isn’t clear that this idea in alternative 3 is just one of many ideas the working group has considered.

I do wonder why this idea gets promoted and highlighted. But maybe that is a problem with the way the report was organized. I know for a fact that several members of the working group would like to keep the fifty foot height limit, but I scoured the report and didn’t see keeping the height limit as one of the ideas the Working Group is considering.

So I remain skeptical, but I am happy to be found in error if this means that an 85 foot building is not in the offing in the plan area, let alone all of Palo Alto, and that our fifty foot height limit is preserved. Thank you Palo Altans for reading, and I apologize to city staff for focusing my laser on the 85 foot height question.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 8:46 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2020 at 8:46 am

Posted by Becky Sanders, a resident of Ventura

>> So I remain skeptical, but I am happy to be found in error if this means that an 85 foot building is not in the offing in the plan area, let alone all of Palo Alto, and that our fifty foot height limit is preserved. Thank you Palo Altans for reading, and I apologize to city staff for focusing my laser on the 85 foot height question.

I don't understand why anyone would consider exceeding the 50 foot limit. They could make the site RM-80 within the 50 foot limit if they wanted to. This isn't about "housing". It is about using housing as an excuse to build more office space-- which would negate the benefit of more housing.

*No more office space!*


Gus L.
Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Gus L., Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2020 at 3:20 pm

The neighbors want a Neighborhood there, not high density. Throw in a Park while you are at it. No HIGH DENSITY..


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2020 at 10:33 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2020 at 10:33 pm

What if we put in a major park, like 30 acres, in the zone that includes the 14 acre Sobrato Fry's site?
That would increase the values of the homes in Ventura, right?
Or all of our homes, right?

Our Comp Plan says we should have a certain amount of parkland per capita, and we are slightly below that.
Plus we let a private citizen use a 7-acre park parcel for his personal use unitl the Grand Jury was notified.

So let's get back on track with our old school Palo Alto values and leave a bunch of Ventura as park land.
Maybe, if necessary, we trade the school site for more park near Fry's.


Firesidechats
Greenmeadow
on Jan 8, 2020 at 11:30 pm
Firesidechats, Greenmeadow
on Jan 8, 2020 at 11:30 pm

It's in Sabrato's best interest to settle this and let go of this property for the good of the community and their philanthropic values. Move the deemed "historic" portion of the cannery to the Cubberly site and repurpose it for performance hall. How cool, sustainable and less expensive than building new. Great way to honor its "labor" and WWII legacy. Don't pass this once in a Century opportunity Palo Alto for affordable, livable, workable housing and retail space.


Geri
Green Acres
on Jan 9, 2020 at 1:21 am
Geri, Green Acres
on Jan 9, 2020 at 1:21 am

In the town of "Mountain View", you already can not see a lot of the MOUNTAINS, of which the town was named for.....
As for "Palo Alto", ( Tall Tree ) if you keep building so darn high, we will not be abel to see our beautiful trees...


Geri
Green Acres
on Jan 9, 2020 at 1:50 am
Geri, Green Acres
on Jan 9, 2020 at 1:50 am

One thing I really miss of the old Palo Alto...the beautiful Monarch butterflies that nested and flourished in the near empty lots across the street from the Cannery. They didn't mind horn honking from the nearby trains as they multiplied from their cocoons into their free flying status, bringing smiles of a more peaceful time in the neighborhood. Not only has Palo Alto lost part of the charm of several places over the last years due to "progress", we also have lost some dignity due to the almighty dollar, backroom deals and the like. Time to regroup about our future very soon as there will be no turning back.......


PopulationPeek
Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:12 am
PopulationPeek, Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:12 am

Gaffaw to posters waxing on about Monach butterflies. Sounds somewhere between regret and nostalgia. I guess these magnificent insects were around before cars were invented, asphalt was poured, or a first bought "home" for under 40 grand, or before there were children, or a population explosion post WWII. Doggie pets peeing on everything outside that looks green will kill the milkweed too. Get real Palo Alto and cease existing on the Inernet.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:46 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2020 at 9:46 am

Posted by PopulationPeek, a resident of Greenmeadow

>> Gaffaw to posters waxing on about Monach butterflies. Sounds somewhere between regret and nostalgia. I guess these magnificent insects were around before cars were invented

Actually, they were common until just a few years ago. A few years ago, there were butterflies (including some Monarchs) all over my flowers. Not any more. Presumably, pesticides and weedkillers are the problem. No question that those are major problems, but, I'm so sure that is the complete explanation for the sudden almost complete disappearance over the last few years.

Web Link


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