The new building on the southwest corner of the property, at the corner of University and Woodland avenues, would be similar in size and architectural design to the existing ones, according to the developer. Currently a parking lot, the corner would include a three- or four-level underground parking garage with 691 stalls, Columbia representatives said during a Feb. 7 public meeting.
The proposal follows a request by East Palo Alto city staff to add another structure to the University Circle campus so the city can increase tax revenue, representatives for the developer said. Staff from Chang Architecture said the potential number of new employees would depend largely on whether the building is leased by a law firm or tech company. The latter, which would be more densely populated, could bring in 900 workers, they said.
The development proposes to add a bike path that would link East Palo Alto's planned University Avenue bike-pedestrian overpass and the existing bike lane on University Avenue. Bathrooms in existing buildings would be retrofitted to offset water consumption at the new building.
The plan comes at the same time that another developer, Sand Hill Property Company, is proposing a 605-apartment development adjacent to University Circle, of which 445 would be rented at market rate and 160 would be under the city's rent-control ordinance.
Some nearby Palo Alto residents are opposed to the proposed development.
"This project is of considerable concern to the residents of Palo Alto because the new building would create new visual impacts on neighboring parcels," Crescent Park Neighborhood Association President Norman Beamer said in an email to the Weekly.
More importantly, it would significantly add to the traffic at the intersection of University and Woodland, and to the U.S. Highway 101 exits, aggravating already intolerable backups on University and chaotic cut-through traffic on the cross streets, which often trap people in their homes, he said.
In 1988, the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association and the city of Palo Alto filed a lawsuit against the University Circle developers DeMonet Industries and University Circle Ltd. and the city of East Palo Alto and its redevelopment agency because of the massive scope of the project that was proposed, he said.
In 1991, the parties reached a settlement agreement that limited the total square footage to 665,000 and the height to 185 feet, along with other provisions, which greatly scaled back the original plans and included measures to limit new traffic. The agreement expires on Dec. 15, 2023.
"When this new project first surfaced several years ago, my understanding is that East Palo Alto indicated that it would not be acceptable, in part because the water allocations to that city were inadequate to sustain the added office space.
"However, the city of Palo Alto 'donated' some of its water allocation to East Palo Alto, which apparently has now allowed this project to resurface — despite the looming water demands of the Stanford Hospital expansion and other unrestrained development — which the environmental impact report ... predicts will exhaust Palo Alto's allocation even before this giveaway to East Palo Alto," he said.
Some East Palo Alto residents at the Woodland Park Apartments on the south side of University also expressed concern at the Feb. 7 open house. They are worried the development would create additional traffic and parking problems. In addition, situating the building so close to the street would make it feel like they're living in a canyon, they said.
Columbia representatives said the development would keep 100 percent of current and future parking on the campus. The developer plans to hire a transportation consultant to evaluate the project's traffic impacts and propose ways to address potential problems.
Under the 1991 agreement for the original project, the developers established a transportation-demand-management (TDM) office and set a desired limit of one car per every 1.33 employees by 1997. University Circle currently has a TDM program that includes a shuttle bus, ride-sharing services and bike facilities. Columbia is also working with tenants to propose alternative working hours and work-from-home plans, according to staff.
The developer is also looking for ways to provide community benefits. At the Feb. 7 meeting, residents said they wanted a job-training center because existing resources on East Palo Alto's east side of U.S. Highway 101 are too far from residents on the west side, they said. Columbia said other possibilities might include improvements to traffic infrastructure, new meeting spaces and forming partnerships to address housing shortages in East Palo Alto.
Columbia has submitted a pre-application to begin planning for the project that could come before the East Palo Alto Planning Commission at a study session this spring, with an environmental impact report to follow later this year or in 2020. Public hearings are estimated to begin in 2020 or 2021.
A second community meeting was held yesterday, Feb. 28.
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