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Prime for housing? College Terrace apartment plan targets 'moderate' earners

Original post made on Jan 15, 2021

A residential block in the College Terrace neighborhood could become the site of a 24-unit apartment building under a proposal that the Palo Alto City Council will weigh in the coming months.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 15, 2021, 1:32 PM

Comments (39)

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2021 at 8:09 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Could those College Terrace residents be any uglier and out of sync with the wonderful College Terrace neighborhood?


Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:02 am

Marie is a registered user.

16 parking spots for 24 apartments means the neighborhood will have to provide the parking. There should be at least one parking spot per unit.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 17, 2021 at 1:43 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Yup At least one parking spot with some guest parking. Their spillover cars are going to overrun College Terrace.


Posted by Stephen Peeps
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2021 at 11:15 am

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College Terrace residents have to fight to keep this monstrosity from being built. It is totally out of character for this neighborhood which dates back to the 1880s, with historic homes from that era still standing.

What City of Palo Alto department approved this disaster and how we do contest it? Is the College Terrace Residents Association the right body to battle this?


Posted by long view
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2021 at 11:26 am

long view is a registered user.

I agree about at least 1 parking spot per unit - and it deserves a few more street trees. Not loving the sketch, totally loving the idea of apartments here. This is such a well suited use. Look at the block on google maps. There are already apartments on most of this block. And giving up 2 units of housing in exchange for 24 units of housing? With no subsidy from the city except for allowing this? Yes. The little houses there now are cute, but how long until they are torn down to be the next mini-mansions. Apartments are so much more in character with what college terrace used to be - a treelined and relatively affordable part of the city.


Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2021 at 1:50 pm

jc is a registered user.

This proposal is within a few steps of the California Mission style Library, often described as the "jewel" of College College Terrace. The proposed design is completely out of character with the library.

The city would have to put sufficient 30 min parking up and down the street during library hours for library patrons as this branch is used by many non-College Terrace residents. Plus sufficient reserved parking for the library and day care staff pushing surplus cars from this proposed project even further out into the neighborhood.

Does a building this size require the "taking" of the existing sidewalk and replacing the planting strip with the sidewalk? The proposed design makes no allowance for a sidewalk planting strip with street trees, which our such an iconic part of Palo Alto. Or


Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2021 at 1:59 pm

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The College Terrace Residents Association might not be the appropriate body to push back against the size of this proposed building as there may be neighborhood residents who have differing opinions.

More appropriate would be a volunteer Task Force independent of but reporting to the Association.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 18, 2021 at 8:29 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Besides the massive size of the development, is mundane, out of place,
architecture! PLEASE, do not allow these lifeless buildings to dominate our city!


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2021 at 9:34 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Look up Livable California.


Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2021 at 8:55 am

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Redesigning with two stories and parking below grade would be a start to having an acceptable project.


Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2021 at 9:29 am

Roger is a registered user.

To Long View, sorry but your view of the history of College Terrace is wrong. College Terrace's history is that of small, mostly <1000 square feet, single family cottages, none of which were two or three stories. If you drive around you will still see many of them. And, yes these are being replaced with new single family homes, but the new homes are one and two stories, not three.


Posted by RPopp
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jan 20, 2021 at 10:59 am

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“Change is the only constant in life.” Heraclitus of c. 535 BC – 475 BC

What was, not very long ago, fields and farmland rapidly adapted to become homes, neighborhoods, roads, and businesses. We all benefit from the change that occurred before we came to this area and it is only reasonable to understand that the density cannot remain static. The need for significantly more housing is as real now as it was when the neighborhoods were first being developed. If you don't like it, continue as others have done by relocating to less dense areas. I personally have no solicitude for those standing on a platform of history, and arguing from their homes in those very neighborhoods, that the quality of life will be destroyed if we follow a path that leads us to projects like this. I am hopeful the "planned housing zone" designation will be a good catalyst for similar project proposals.


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2021 at 11:00 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

this is one UGLY building in an area of small "cottages"; leafy trees and character. Also inadequate parking; out onto the streets. Becomes someone else's problem.

Once a building like this is approved in College Terrace every other neighborhood is at risk. Just say NO and demand a better design; compatible with the neighborhood. One that adds rather than subtracts. My comments are not against housing just against ugly out of sync design.
The architect can do better.


Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 20, 2021 at 11:33 am

eileen is a registered user.

I think the only way to approve this project is to change the zoning from R1 to R2 over the entire city. Does anyone know?


Posted by Please Don't
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 20, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Please Don't is a registered user.

Our household has one car per occupant - total of four cars. This neighborhood is not suitable for this type of development and the fact that the plans have come this far is very disturbing. The PACC is not looking out for the residents best interest. Curb the growth here in Palo Alto. Let's not try and cram in as many people as possible, thanks.


Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2021 at 3:41 pm

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

There are many homes here in Barron Park out of sync with the looks of my 95-year-old cottage and I find a number of them ugly. However, I won't argue nothing can change in the neighborhood until the creaky old thing finally dies of old age.

The old cottages and homes in College Terrace were certainly out of sync with the farms and groves that stood there before they were built. And I'm willing to bet the cows and squirrels found almost all of the new buildings rather ugly.

Old isn't necessarily historical and time marches on friends.


Posted by RF
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2021 at 12:09 pm

RF is a registered user.

Out of character? What’s out of character is the fact we have a strip of land near transit and large employers where NIMBY discrimination is veiled as preserving character. We ask College Terrace residents need to finally put an end to the discriminatory sentiment that has come out of the Residence association for decades. It’s time for more growth. This lot is huge and the walking score is perfect for units like these. What a great place to have a starter home. I can’t wait to welcome these folks to our community!


Posted by RF
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2021 at 12:10 pm

RF is a registered user.

Out of character? What’s out of character is the fact we have a strip of land near transit and large employers where NIMBY discrimination is veiled as preserving character. We ask College Terrace residents need to finally put an end to the discriminatory sentiment that has come out of the Residence association for decades. It’s time for more growth. This lot is huge and the walking score is perfect for units like these. What a great place to live as a young professional getting started!


Posted by ST
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 22, 2021 at 1:52 pm

ST is a registered user.

Great location and denser housing means less of a need for parking spaces - I live right at the end of College Terrace and can walk for food (Calave), groceries (the new Real Produce), the vet (Animal Doctors), etc. I can take the Marguerite or public buses to downtown Palo Alto. I can bike to the Dish. When it's 100% necessary I Uber or use Zipcar. It's likely that those in this new, much-needed development would also benefit from the same carfree benefits that I do.

I don't have a car and urge others to reconsider their car usage too if you're concerned about traffic or the environment!


Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2021 at 2:32 pm

jc is a registered user.

While I applaud anyone who makes the choice to live without their own car, we can't speak for others and assume that people who choose to live in College Terrace, or at this particular location, will never need or want access to their own car. That every adult will limit their employment options, that families with babies/toddlers/children will not find it too difficult and/or time consuming to work around not having at least one car available. Depending on their schedules, some couples may each need or just want the convenience of their own car.

So, yes, let's hope that more people choose not to drive, but we can't make that assumption when planning for construction. Also there is no way to control making non-car ownership mandatory because Palo Alto has no code enforcement to speak of.


Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2021 at 2:37 am

Longtime Resident is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Reducing the size to 10-16 units and offering 1.25 parking spaces per unit (with safe/covered bike parking) is the way to go. The aesthetic of the design is terrible, but so are the two buildings across the street (both of which are showing their age and could be torn down and rebuilt soon). Cato should reduce the height, lower the density by 8 units, and offer a more classic design. Do that and the city should absolutely approve it.

You can't say you're in any way progressive or eager to solve the need for more local affordable housing and also be against this kind of development. College Terrace from El Camino to Wellesley is a neighborhood of mostly multi-unit buildings and and a few single family houses.

At the same time, the developer must be sensitive to the optics of greed and the aesthetic being out of step with the character of the neighborhood. Their effort to accomodate middle earners is laudable and should be contractually obligated by the city as part of the approval. With some adjustments the city and the CT neighbors should support the use.

All of this is VERY UNFORTUNATE for the owners of the only single family residence on the street. They have my absolute sympathy. They're in a tough spot and must be hurting to know "the place next door" will never again be a single family residence. Street parking will become more competitive and their quiet cul-de-sac will be busy with construction and then tenants in the years to come. Better to accept that idea quickly and either embrace the change or move. Perhaps the developer would offer them a slight premium for their lot in exchange for the opportunity to expand the project and really turn that dead end street into a showcase of what College Terrace can be.

It would be really great to hear about a win-win for a change!


Posted by Carol
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2021 at 12:21 am

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"Once a building like this is approved in College Terrace every other neighborhood is at risk." Move this project to your R1 neighborhood if you support it!


Posted by David Branch
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2021 at 8:53 am

David Branch is a registered user.

The design kind of looks like an office building but that doesn't bother me.

More housing is needed in Palo Alto and this College Terrace development will also serve a viable purpose as potential rental housing for Stanford grad students.

Some of the older College Terrace homes look kind of ratty and hardly qualify for historic preservation status.

In time, many will be torn down and no big loss.

How many homes from the early days of Palo Alto still exist today?

Even the tule huts inhabited by the Ohlones are well past their prime along with any remaining adobe housings from the Mexican period.

This new apartment represents a new College Terrace era.


Posted by Context matters.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Context matters. is a registered user.

This design looks like an office building plunked down in a residential neighborhood--a stick in their neighbors' eye. The project is out of character with the rest of the neighborhood. Did the architect even visit College Terrace? I don't live in this neighborhood, but the architect is either incompetent or deliberately ignoring context. Developers often do this. They start with a maximally awful project so they have wiggle room to make changes to get to the project they wanted along. They then report to council, after much time intensive political wrangling, that the project they really wanted all along is a compromise. This kind of process is increasingly common and is abusive of neighbors and city staff resources.

A 3-story apartment building is a good idea for this space, but this design is visually awful in context of this neighborhood. Here's an idea for the developer. Behave like a good neighbor. Consider context and then act considerately. Listen to the concerns of your neighbors and respond with consideration for their needs. Maybe then you'll have a project that can move forward with neighborhood support.

Presenting something like this creates unnecessary angst and conflict. Has it occurred to the developer that they might get better results by listening to neighbors and trying to offer a project that conforms with residential character? Three stories might be acceptable if it was adequately parked (1.25 auto pkg and covered bike parking is a good idea) and if the design looked like the rest of the neighborhood (which is not flat-roofed, sterile modern office style). Also, make sure that your window placement does not intrude on neighbors' privacy. Some trees might help. Get a clue. Behave like you care about others in your neighborhood. I get this is just one project for you, but for most residents of the neighborhood, their home is their primary asset. A project that looks like this makes people feel under assault, and your design drove that. Please exercise better self-discipline and consideration in your design process. It will save you, the city, and your neighbors much time and unnecessary conflict. You can do better...but I bet you already know that.


Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2021 at 1:35 pm

jc is a registered user.

If the city approves the removal of the current R-1 zoning for these properties, which are in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and instead replaces the R-1 with a new zoning to allow a multi-unit apartment building, this will set a precedent for every single Palo Alto residential neighborhood.

If an R-1 property is up-zoned to allow apartments there may be the possibility of greatly increased profits. A great incentive for developers to buy and apply to replace single family homes in any neighborhood with multi units.


Posted by Context matters.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Context matters. is a registered user.

There is already a two-story apartment building right across the street. Look on Google maps street view.


Posted by Bill Fitch
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 25, 2021 at 3:26 pm

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I always thought College Ave looked like it ought to have a trolley car going the middle. If we get enough people living in this lovely neighborhood, more transportation options would be possible.


Posted by 3rd gen PA resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2021 at 3:39 pm

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I am all for new housing in Palo Alto, including College Terrace, where I live. But this is such a weird project that it only makes sense if it's for/by Stanford.

1) Stanford bought the property next door, which was owned by the same owner as this property, and my understanding is that Stanford bought this property, as well.

2) Stanford has bought almost all of the real estate in College Terrace over the last few years. 30-something houses was the last number I heard from a CTRA member.

3) The only people who want to live in a studio or 1-bedroom are students. Do we really think PA teachers and fireman, who are well into their careers and often have families, want to live in studios or 1-bedroom apartments?

There is a good chance this will not only get built but it won't even be available to the general public. Let's build housing that will actually help Palo Altans.


Posted by jc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2021 at 5:30 pm

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@Context matters.

This proposal is a corner property with two homes on it, and surrounded with single family homes on the other two sides. Houses on the second and third corners opposite corners, and a few low density apartments on the fourth corner. On the other side of the street are two low density apartments with a wide landscaped walkway separating the two buildings so it feels spacious and does not dominate the street. So yes, context matters.


Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2021 at 3:26 pm

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Once a decision is taken to change R1 zoning in College Terrace then the precedent will have been made. This is a test for the council. Many people on NextDoor have opined that they are not against housing for low income folks, for example Wilton Court on the El Camino Real. Many have also stated that this proposed project is inappropriate for College Terrace. If this is a Stanford property then Land Management should build on Stanford land and not in Palo Alto. College Terrace is pressured by traffic on cut through streets. There is pollution from plumes of TCE that have crossed into the neighborhood from research park which is owned by Stanford. We feel the pressure of the traffic even during the pandemic. Stanford refused to keep the easement in the upper Terrace that went to Page Mill road. If the easement had been retained --- traffic from the much needed University Terrace development for junior faculty would not be cutting through the College Terrace neighborhood at the level we must endure. Talk about a terrible land use decision. The Peter Coutts faculty development just west of the University Terrace development has a road that allows traffic to go south to Page Mill and the other direction to Stanford Avenue. Traffic data shows that faculty go out at fifty percent in each direction.

THIS ISSUE IS NOT ONE OF DESIGN. AGAIN, THIS IS A TEST OF THE CITY COUNCIL REGARDING CHANGING ZONING. Look at the former VTA lot and the former Olive Garden parcel and you can find housing designated appropriately on the El Camino Real. The proposed development for Wellesley and College is not suitable for the College Terrace neighborhood.


Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2021 at 3:50 pm

ALB is a registered user.

Palo Alto is losing houses to Stanford. College Terrace and other neighborhoods are being infiltrated by a huge take over by Stanford. I mention this because this is just one of the components that show the preexisting stress on this College Terrace community. Combined with all of the other pressures mentioned in my post above it is too much to have a change in zoning from R1 to permit developments such as the one proposed for the corner of Wellesley and College in College Terrace. The Palo Alto City Council needs to listen to constituents and refrain from changing the R1 zoning.


Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 28, 2021 at 5:40 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Keep mass housing out of College Terrace. Either put it on Stanford Campus,or maybe Redwood City or East Palo Alto. College Terrace is, and must, remain a "nice place to live for Stanford people" and not a high rise ghetto for less worthy people. Life is NOT fair and never will be, anti-intellectuals. Accept that and move on.


Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2021 at 8:22 am

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Is there evidence that Stanford owns, or has rights to buy, this project once completed? Or, are the units being guaranteed to Stanford in some way not listed in the article?


Posted by Kevin
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 1, 2021 at 8:44 pm

Kevin is a registered user.

"a high rise ghetto for less worthy people". What's that, Mr. Does Not Live in Palo Alto?


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2021 at 2:26 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I think ALB has it right: this is a test for City Council. No one I know questions the need for more affordable housing. Unfortunately, the cost of land makes it hard for projects to pencil out for developers who of course want to profit from their efforts. So, I am skeptical about Cato's claim that this housing will be of interest to the "missing middle". Of course, such claims sound good when pitching a deal. If the units are to be rented, what is the projected rent rate? And if they are to be purchased, what is the projected asking price?

And isn't it darling that Gildea, a representative of the developer, asserts that this is the right project at the right location? What is her criteria for that assertion? There's no indication that they examined other possible locations for such a large project or that the units will be leased or purchased only by adults with local jobs.

I participated in the well attended CTRA meeting about this and the overwhelming sentiment expressed was this: IT IS TOO BIG. The scale is way off. Roger (see above post) is right: as a starting point, this should be re-designed to 2 stories with adequate parking underground. The architect might want to also take a stroll around the neighborhood to get some ideas about how the design could be made more compatible with the neighborhood.

I think Palo Altans are very accepting of change. With regard to housing, change aversion is not the issue; the complete destruction of that which already exists is an issue.

As for NIMBY discrimination: that is a tired label used to delegitimize valid concerns. In this case, the two most obvious valid and objective concerns are scale and the shortage of parking. I think the design is also a concern, but that is more subjective so arguably less valid.

If this project comes to City Council, I hope each Council Member will ask themselves this question: would you want this building next to your home?


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2021 at 3:25 pm

mjh is a registered user.

The question is not the merits of apartments on these two single family home properties but the precedent this sets for development in all single family home neighborhoods. This project should be considered a test case.

If Cato can set a precedent and overturn the R1 zoning to build this extremely dense apartment complex on two small single family home properties, what is the argument for saying “no” to the next similar apartment complex they propose? Any larger cottage cluster property, or two next door properties, will be targeted for similar development. Cato has acquired a number of other properties in College Terrace including, I understand, “cottage cluster” properties which tend to be larger.

If allowed, I imagine projects like this would be sufficiently profitable to encourage a boom in building small dense apartment complexes throughout all Palo Alto neighborhoods, given the pent up demand to live in Palo Alto we keep hearing about. Especially as properties in other residential neighborhoods are larger than “sub-standard” College Terrace properties providing greater opportunities for similar dense apartment developments.




Posted by ST
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 4, 2021 at 4:37 pm

ST is a registered user.

Why do College Terrace residents feel entitled to dictate what other homes look like? If you care, buy the property.

Similarly, why are you entitled to a traffic-free street when you recommend low-income housing along busy thoroughfares?

The entitlement of Boomers is astounding.


Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 5, 2021 at 3:42 pm

mjh is a registered user.

I find it astounding how many non-College Terrace residents, even some who do not live in Palo Alto, believe they are entitled to dictate what our neighborhood should look like.


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