Hamilton Avenue is going through office boom | July 19, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 19, 2013

Hamilton Avenue is going through office boom

Latest four-story building downtown wins approval from architecture board

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's University Avenue might get all the glory, but Hamilton Avenue is getting the growth.

A glassy new project by local architect Ken Hayes has been proposed for a corner across the street from City Hall, at Hamilton and Ramona Street. It is the latest in a string of major developments that are expected to add vitality, mass and a whole lot of office workers to downtown's second-busiest thoroughfare.

The current building, which once housed Radio Shack, would be demolished to make way for a four-story structure, which would feature retail on the ground floor, two apartments on the fourth floor and offices everywhere else. Altogether, the 15,000-square-foot building would include 9,190 square feet of office space.

Despite its 50-foot height, the maximum allowed under city law, the new development is unlikely to stick out in this part of the city. City Hall is eight stories high, as is the Casa Olga building one block away, which is in the midst of being converted into a hotel. In addition, developer Charles "Chop" Keenan is working on a similar project — a four-story building with retail on the ground floor and offices and two residential units above — less than two blocks away, at 135 Hamilton Ave.

Another four-story building, at 100 Hamilton, made headlines last year when it was sold for a staggering $64 million. Its tenants include the data-analysis giant, Palantir.

Because the Hayes building is consistent with the site's zoning, it does not have to go through the extensive review that characterizes projects seeking zoning flexibility. On Thursday, July 18, it cleared one of the few procedural hurdles in its path when it received the blessing of the city's Architectural Review Board. Members of the board, which had also reviewed this project on June 6, had some suggestions relating to colors and materials to be used in the new building before voting 3-0, with Randy Popp and Naseem Alizadeh absent, in favor. But they generally had good things to say about the project, with board member Lee Lippert calling it a "handsome building" and board member Alex Lew saying it will be a good fit on the Hamilton Avenue block.

"I think the massing is well done to integrate it in with the neighboring buildings," Lew said.

At the same time, the Hayes building will do little to ease the anxieties of area residents over downtown's well-documented parking shortage. In the last three years, residents throughout downtown, particularly in Professorville and Downtown North, have been calling for the city to do something about employees taking up all-day parking spots on their residential streets, a consequence of the rapid addition of office space nearby. The city has taken a multi-pronged approach to solving this problem, exploring the possibility of building new parking garages, revising its permit system for existing garages and temporarily suspending an exemption that allows developers to build without providing enough parking spaces for their tenants.

Lippert noted Thursday that the parking problem, while real, is beyond the purview of the architecture board, which is mainly concerned with the building itself.

"I sympathize with what residents in the SOFA (South of Forest Avenue) area and the area further south are dealing with, but frankly our job here is to review the standards with regard to quality and character and seeing that the buildings meet those standards," Lippert said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.


Posted by Enough, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

This quote from the article says it all: "It is the latest in a string of major developments that are expected to add vitality, mass and a whole lot of office workers to downtown's second-prominent thoroughfare." Good grief - the last thing Palo Alto needs is more vitality, more mass, and more office workers in downtown. Greedy developers, and a City Council failing to look out for the citizens are responsible for the downgrading of Palo Alto. Gross overdevelopment. What a shame.

Posted by history, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 18, 2013 at 10:29 am

I'm sure there were similar comments a hundred years ago. Through all the development PA has changed for sure but it's still a great place. Change is ok - and its coming so why not embrace it?

Posted by Eric, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 18, 2013 at 11:15 am

I'm happy to see a building that sticks within the existing rules instead of using the planned community zoning to break them. I hope it sails through the approval process.

Posted by means more housing, a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2013 at 11:26 am

So I guess these developments, all of which add jobs to Palo Alto, will add to the equations of ABAG which force is to increase housing to be in balance with all these jobs. Do people not see that more jobs means the ABAG housing issue just gets worse? Where do we put all that new housing that we are required to build? Is anyone looking at the big picture here? Jobs do not occur in isolation. They affect every aspect of life in PA: housing, jobs, schools, resources, traffic, infrastructure, et al. More, more more is not the answer!

Posted by Laszlo, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2013 at 11:46 am

For commenter "Change is OK - and its comming so why not embace it?"
We have never had a highrise construction boom in Palo Alto as we have seen it in the last decade. Are you in favor of the Manhattanisation of Palo Alto? Furthermore, Architecturel Review Board Member Lippart's comment is truly disturbing. He stated that parking "is beyond the purview of the architecture board, which is mainly concerned with the building itself". Does this mean that parking is not a requirement for highrise building developments? The City Council's responsibility is to provide adequate infrastructure for the present and future needs of the City - isn't adequate parking spaces part of the City's infrastucture? The City Council seems to be determined to provide a bonanza for developers in Palo Alto whether it is good for the City or not.

Posted by so, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm

why not buildings for free housing/ instead of boring business peoples.

Posted by Good fit?, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm

It's a good fit if you close your eyes and don't look at the adjacent building, Reposado restaurant.
Nice to live next to a greedy gorilla glass box who looks like he's about to swallow you, I guess.

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South
on Jul 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Lass lo,

The planning commission deals with parking

What do you call 525 University? Count the buildings in PA more than 5 stories.
They were built before was even the big issue it is today.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

@ Chris - I think you mean the planning commission ignores parking.

Posted by anon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Can someone comment on the zoning code for downtown. I thought that you could only build a 1 FAR or about a two story building. How does it really work?

Posted by Bob, a resident of Woodside
on Jul 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm

There's already a lot of traffic and it's impossible to live within 50 miles of Palo Alto with less than $100k year. Excuse my Palo Alto snobbishness, but build this in Kentucky. Deflate the bubble slowly and steadily.

Posted by More vitality, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm

So the news is The Hayes Group is going to provide some mass and "vitality" to Hamilton Ave. If you want to see what mass and
"vitality" looks like go to the the corner of Bryant/University- their just completed project.

Posted by Gail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Downtown Palo Alto will soon just be a huge office park.

Posted by Planning debacles, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Can we trust the ARB's decision-making on new buildings? Besides the mess at the former Miki's at East Meadow and Alma, look at 800 Alma for housing!It looks like Elmwood Correctional facility or similar. Really awful,an embarrassing and uninviting boundary for the edge of downtown Palo Alto.
If these new downtown buildings are approved, they must have space WITHIN for employee parking; why is that so difficult to require? The City is choking out the residents; there is NO more room for downtown overflow.

Posted by jk, a resident of University South
on Jul 19, 2013 at 4:13 am

It's sad to see what's happened to a once beautiful and diverse downtown. You had a rare gem here. Did you know that many of the streets were named after famous authors? Do they even care? It seems these days all you see are cement trucks and dust.

Posted by 35 Year Resident, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:26 am

Isn't one of the roles of the Architectural Review Board to maintain and promote the architectural heritage of Palo Alto?

One look at the visual conflict this building creates with the architectural gems on nearby Emerson and Hamilton Streets shows just how far from that role recent ARBs have strayed. The pinnacle of their latest efforts is the monstrosity at the corner of Homer and Alma Streets. Is it any wonder that blockhouse is quickly becoming known to the residents of the area as San Quentin South!

How could the ARB endorse and the City Council approve the design of such a horribly ugly building?

Time for change?

Posted by not enough traffic, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2013 at 8:35 am

"The pinnacle of their latest efforts is the monstrosity at the corner of Homer and Alma Streets.""
Yes, too bad this building does not look like an Eichler or one of those many hideous looking homes in Professorville or maybe a putrid Julia Morgan building.

"Is it any wonder that blockhouse is quickly becoming known to the residents of the area as San Quentin South!"
The above quote is why comments like that cannot be taken seriously--they come across as misguided complaints from people who are completely against change or anything that looks like it did not come from the 19th century.
Surprised the poster did not throw in the usual comments about the Mitchell Park library and the JCC

Posted by more vitality, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

There is one mistake after another, projects with very poor outcomes, just in the Downtown area.Both the Gatehouse project at Lytton/Bryant and the old Medallion rug gallery on University next to La Strada are vastly overbuilt office projects which destroyed the value of the existing historic resource- the Gatehouse building and plaza, and the original facade at Medallion. The 12 ft roof extension under construction at the old Casa Olga, the new Epiphany Hotel, on top of a 76 foot high building, has a major effect on the Hamilton Ave streetscape all the way past Waverley and is very odd looking,out of place, unsettling and heavy looking from a distance. The Hayes Group Roxy Rapp gray steel/glass building at Bryant and University creates a huge monolith now on that block, uninteresting, out of scale, and dark especially with the similarly dark colored Restoration Hardware across the street. The 801 Alma project is in a category by itself. When you see the effects of all this, and the clogged streets,poor access through beautiful residential areas, no parking, with more projects in the pipeline,what is taking place looks completely irrational from a public policy standpoint.

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

Those of you in the North smarting from parking problems, please support the referendums on the Maybell project zoning. In that case, the neighbors just want the project built within the zoning (or a low-traffic alternative like a community orchard, which some of our more well-heeled northern neighbors who might like to save the 90+ trees there now might support?)

The Maybell development puts 72 units where there is currently 4 ranch houses and a 90 tree historic orchard. There will be only 47 parking spots for the 60 unit main development, including for residents, employees and visitors, even though there are no adjacent services like grocery the way there are at locations they compared that to. Which means the neighboring park will lose its parking spots.

Traffic on the adjacent streets, Arastradero and Maybell are already nightmarish and unsafe during the school year, and both streets are school commute corridors for Gunn, Terman, Bowman, and Juana Briones Elementary. Maybell is of substandard width with no way to widen it or have even one full width sidewalk or bike lane down the length of Maybell. Add to the mix the extra parking from the new development along the park and into the neighborhood...

Despite this, the traffic study failed to look at the impact to thousands of school kids who take those routes, including over 1,000 on foot and bike every school day, even though City policy is for heightened scrutiny of developments affecting school commute corridors. It used old data, and didn't use correct up to date numbers to estimate trip data.

I am inserting this here in hopes our northern neighbors will see that the disregard of traffic and parking continues all over town, even when the safety of kids is directly affected. Also to let you know we are still collecting signatures for the main referendum. The one that was turned in on the 17th had to be done because the Maybell rezoning so violated the general plan, the City inserted the rezoning as a change to the general plan. So neighbors had to referend that as well. But the main referendum, putting the high density rezoning to the vote of Palo Altans, is still collecting signatures until July 28. See www.paloaltoville.com

Posted by Polly Wannacracker, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 19, 2013 at 11:07 am

Hey City Hall! Don't look now, but there's no more parking room out here. Those people ain't taking the train like you told 'em to.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

The ARB wants modern architecture. They loathe Palo Alto / Stanford style appearances.

How many ARB members are actually residents of Palo Alto?

Posted by oppressive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm

The new 4-story at Bryant and University is too big,too dark,too
drab. With the also dark gray Restoration Hardware across the
street the combined effect is oppressive. Also while the similar Jos Bank modern steel/glass building next door on it's own was of interst as a contrast, the combined effect of the two buildings together is just overwhelming and uninteresting. The end result is very poor, another bad outcome. Now The Hayes Group is coming
onto another sensitive corner at Hamilton and Ramona.

Posted by Trashtown, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Modern? The abomination at Homer&Alma appears to have been adapted from the Soviet Union playbook, circa 1950. It wasn't attractive then and the design hasn't improved with the passage of time. Too bad that the look & feel of this once-beautiful city is being sacrificed on the altar of developer greed.

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