Condo Project Tests Boundaries of New Palo Alto Housing Law | News

Encouraged by the Palo Alto City Council’s new appetite to approve more housing on San Antonio Road, a local developer is moving forward with a proposal to build 102 condominiums on a site that currently includes a martial arts studio and a contractor’s office.

Yurong Han’s request calls for the demolition of two buildings at 788 San Antonio Road, south of East Charleston Road, and the construction of a four-story apartment building with ground-level retail and an underground garage. Sixteen of the building’s 102 units would be offered below market price, consistent with the city’s affordable housing requirements.

If Han gets city approval, the new building would be the largest residential project to win over the council this year. Despite aiming to generate around 300 homes a year, it would be only the second major project to move forward and the first since council approved a 59-unit residential complex on El Camino Real and Wilton Avenue in January. Both projects build on the city’s new Housing Incentive Program, which awards density bonuses to residential developers.

The San Antonio Road project not only seeks to profit from the program; it is also looking to expand its reach. When the council approved the housing incentive program last year, the program only applied to downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real. But at a study session in May, board members broadly backed a request from Han’s representative, Ted O’Hanlon, who argued for expanding the program to San Antonio, allowing the project of condominiums.

Zone switching isn’t the only hurdle the developer faces. On Thursday, the project will have its first hearing before the city’s architectural review board, which is responsible for checking the development’s compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. The board is expected to defer its vote on the proposal to a later date.

The area around the site is already undergoing transformation. Palo Alto had approved in 2017 the construction of two Marriott hotels with a total of 294 rooms at 744 and 748 San Antonio Road. In Mountain View, city leaders have been even more enthusiastic about San Antonio’s development potential, having recently approved hundreds of housing units along the major suburban corridor that separates the two cities.

The list of new developments in Mountain View includes the 623-unit apartment complex being developed by Greystar at San Antonio and California Street, which council approved last year; and Prometheus Real Estate’s 583-unit apartment project at 400 San Antonio Road that the council approved in 2016.

While Palo Alto’s plans for San Antonio are much more modest, council’s early comments on the 788 San Antonio Road proposal suggest a shift in thinking. In years past, council members have relied almost exclusively on Downtown, California Avenue, and El Camino Real as potential housing areas, with little to show for their efforts. By May, however, most council members favored giving the developer zoning bonuses that would allow for a 2.0 “floor area ratio,” similar to what the city allows in other areas. commercial. The project, which once had 47 condominiums, now offers more than twice as many.

Councilor Alison Cormack acknowledged during the May discussion that the project “would push the boundaries of what … the community would be comfortable with,” but said the discussion was worth it. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilor Liz Kniss were both less ambivalent and supported the project as presented.

“It meets a lot of requirements,” Kniss said. “I always know there’s going to be a lot of pushback. Hopefully in the end we’ll come to terms with that and start down a path with 300 (housing units) a year.”

Other board members were less enthusiastic. Councilman Tom DuBois noted that the council had previously viewed San Antonio Road as a poor site for housing, due to its relatively limited transportation options. He called the project site an “auto zone” and pointed to the council’s earlier decision to move some of its planned housing units from San Antonio to downtown.

“We picked the locations we chose because of their location — close to working public transit,” DuBois said.

Councilor Lydia Kou argued that the project does not include enough community amenities or affordable housing. She suggested the project could make the neighborhood’s parking situation worse, and criticized the proposed zone change as “one-time zoning.”

“There should be an effort to have consistency and predictability,” Kou said. “It’s just piecemeal zoning.”

Mayor Eric Filseth agreed the project will likely be “car-centric,” though he also said he sees no reason not to expand the zoning program in San Antonio.

The project that the council will consider on Thursday includes 32 studios, 63 one-bedroom apartments and seven two-bedroom apartments, as well as 1,779 square feet of commercial space (likely a cafe or lounge, according to the applicant) on the ground floor. .

Since the amount of retail (or “retail-like”) space in the project’s plans is well below what exists today (existing tenant Studio Kicks comprises 5,897 square feet of space), the proposal violates the city’s retail-protection law. As such, Han will need the council to grant him an exception to the city’s retail protection order before the project gets the final green light.

In a July 9 letter to the city, O’Hanlon, who represents the landlord, argued for approval of the project and the broader application of the housing incentive program. The program, O’Hanlon wrote, encourages housing and, compared to state density bonus laws, “retains more local control to the city in approving housing developments.”

“The Housing Incentive Program (HIP) has been called an important step in addressing the imbalance between jobs and housing at a time when the city needs to aggressively adopt housing-friendly policies,” O’ wrote. Hanlon. “To avoid falling short of the City’s adopted goal of generating 300 housing units this year (and the City is currently expected to fall short), the City is considering (and has shown preliminary support) a zoning enactment change to apply HIP more widely.

“This will allow projects like this to maximize the production of residential units on the property to help the city meet its housing unit goals.”

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