After eight years, the Drew Health Foundation, a historic nonprofit in East Palo Alto, is now fully operational as the city approved their conditional use permit application on Monday.
The city's Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the permit, which had been previously approved in 2012 and 2014 but expired as the foundation did not have the necessary building permits. Though the foundation was still in operation during the last eight years, without an approved permit they were not fully compliant with city guidelines.
This is a big win for the Drew Health Foundation, which has provided health, housing and education resources for the communities of East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park since 1967. They also provide educational scholarships and support local nonprofits.
"It's a weight lifted off of our shoulders," CarsJanae Pettiford, executive director of the foundation, said during an interview on Tuesday. "To go for so many years trying to get something so simple and to have so many obstacles be placed in our way — it's a big accomplishment for us. And for us it's a symbol that we can move forward."
When the foundation moved from their University Avenue location to 1191 Runnymede St. in 2012, they applied for a conditional use permit from the city to operate at their new site. But the permit expired after one year as the foundation lacked the necessary building permits. The foundation applied for an extension to 2014, which was approved, but also expired as they still did not get the building permits.
Since the Runnymede site is a single-family home, housing the foundation there would require a conversion from the residential or "R" occupancy type to the business or "B" occupancy type applied to offices. This conversion requires "upgrades to the building to meet the more stringent construction standards" applied to office buildings, according to a city staff report.
The upgrades include a fire sprinkler system, accessible parking and a shared parking agreement with their neighbor, the True Light Missionary Baptist Church.
The foundation has been working since the end of 2014 to address the issues, but the process has been delayed by misplaced documents and changing leadership within the Planning Commission, according to Pettiford and vice president of the foundation Quedellis Walker.
"It's been a long, frustrating process for us to say the least," Walker said during the commission's meeting.
After they installed the fire system, created accessible parking and executed the shared parking agreement, the foundation applied for the conditional use permit this March.
The commission fully supported the permit's approval at Monday's meeting, commending the foundation for working hard over the years to meet the city's guidelines.
"This is one of the quickest CUPs we've approved," Commissioner Robert Allen-Fisk said after the vote, which brought laughs from the other commissioners.
Now that the foundation has an approved permit, they're fully compliant with the city's requirements and can continue serving the community without worry.