The two buildings on El Camino Real in Palo Alto that currently house The Fish Market and a McDonald's restaurant would be torn down and replaced with a seven-story residential complex with 380 apartments under a new proposal.
The Menlo Park-based developer Acclaim Companies has also indicated that it plans to rely on Senate Bill 330, which locks in the city's development standards that are in place at the time of an application's submission and which limits the number of public hearings that the city can hold on a proposed development. If approved, it would be one of Palo Alto's tallest and most ambitious residential projects in decades.
The proposal for 3150 El Camino Real reflects a growing tendency by developers, both locally and across the state, to rely on new state laws to get around local restrictions that in the past would have doomed residential projects.
With a height of 84 feet, the development proposed by Acclaim would transcend Palo Alto's 50-foot height limit by a significant margin, and its proposed density of 149 residential units per acre dwarfs the existing limit of 40 units per acre in the commercial zones. The city's zoning code allows residential uses in service commercial (CS) zones on El Camino Real.
It is one of two large residential projects in the Barron Park neighborhood now going through the city's review process. In October, the City Council discussed a development proposed by Oxford Capital Group to build two six-story apartment buildings at 3400 El Camino Real, the current site of the Creekside Inn. The new residential complexes would replace the hotel as well as the buildings that currently house Driftwood Deli and Market and Cibo Restaurant.
But while the Creekside Inn project was proposed under "planned home" zoning, which gives the council broad discretion to reject or modify the project, the new proposal from Acclaim is not requesting planned home zoning and is instead banking on state laws to significantly curtail the city's powers to demand changes.
The state's Density Bonus Law gives developers the right to seek waivers from development regulations, such as height and density standards and parking requirements. Acclaim is planning to include fewer parking spaces than would otherwise be required.
SB 330 also limits the city's ability to request design modifications, provided the applicant has demonstrated that the project meets the city's "objective standards." With the application filed, city staff is now reviewing Acclaim's submission to see if there are any deficiencies, Planning Director Jonathan Lait said.
"That's where we are now. They'll take that information, and they'll have six months to file an application with the locked-in development standards," Lait said.
Acclaim isn't the only housing development in Palo Alto to rely on SB 330 for a residential project. Last summer, the council approved a 48-townhome development at 2850 W. Bayshore Road despite a recommendation from the Architectural Review Board to deny the project. The developer, SummerHill Homes, counted on SB 330 to limit the city to five hearings on the proposal.
The Sobrato Organization also cited SB 330 in its application for a 91-townhome project at 200 Portage Ave., near the former site of Fry's Electronics. That proposal is now on hold, however, as the city and the developer are moving ahead with a broader development agreement that would result in 74 townhomes and require Sobrato to dedicate 3.25-acres of land to the city for development of affordable housing and a new park.
The Fish Market area is one of two Palo Alto sites that the Menlo Park-based developer has been considering for housing. In early 2021, the council gave generally good reviews to Acclaim's proposed "planned home zone" project at 2951 El Camino Real, which included 113 apartments, on the opposite side of El Camino from the Fish Market proposal.
Despite the council's enthusiasm, however, the project faltered after one of the property owners withdrew its support and construction costs escalated, company Vice President Gary Johnson told this news organization earlier this year.
Acclaim had also flirted with a different "planned home zone" project for The Fish Market site. In 2021, it submitted a preliminary application for a five-story development with retail on the ground floor and 129 housing units. Acclaim opted not to advance with that project, and the council never got to review it.
With nearly triple the units, the current project at 3150 El Camino Real is far more ambitious than what the developer was contemplating back then. According to plans that Acclaim submitted, the complex would include a rooftop garden lounge, a coworking area, a fitness area and a clubroom. It would also have a two-level underground garage with 443 parking spaces.
Of the 380 residences, 194 would be one-bedroom apartments. The complex would also include 95 two-bedroom apartments, 19 three-bedroom apartments, 14 studios and 58 junior one-bedroom apartments, which are studios with an additional small living space.
While the application does not state how many dwellings would be offered at below market rate, city law requires at least 15% of the new units (or 57 apartments) to be offered as affordable housing.
Acclaim did not immediately respond to questions about the project.