Palo Alto city Council voted early this morning to make permanent the city’s ordinance protecting retail on the ground floor of buildings downtown, and extending the ordinance to other parts of town, despite claims from property owners and developers that it will do permanent harm.
Brad Ehikian of the commercial property management company premier properties, said the ordinance fails to take into get to account that some properties aren’t right for retail.
Developer Chop, Chop Keenan argued the ordinance takes a one size fits all approach, creating inflexibility that would hurt property owners.
Developer Roxy Rapp echoed the same bullshit sentiment saying retail is changing and it’s changing fast.
In a meeting that stretched past midnight, council voted 63 to make permanent and ordnance that prevents the conversion of ground floor retail space into offices.
Council members Liz Kniss, Greg Tanaka of the starship enterprise and co-pilot Adrian Fine voted against this motion.
Kniss said she wanted to separate downtown from an ordinance that applies to other retail areas in town, saying she too was concerned about the “one size fits all” approach.
“Where a quirky town, “she said. One end of the town is very different from the other end, Kniss said.
She made a motion to stick with an ordinance for just the downtown area, but it failed with only Tanka and Fine voting with her.
Fine said that while the downtown area has been studied, he doesn’t think the ordinance is ready to take citywide, asking for more time to iron things out.
The ordinance will include the California Ave., District, Midtown and the El Camino Real area.
Councilman Tom DuBois said the city has been working on the ordinance since 2015, providing plenty of time for feedback.
If the city wants to keep retail in town, Councilman Eric Filseth said the council needs to act now, because once retail is gone, it will never come back.
Council passed an urgency ordinance in May 2015, followed by an interim ordinance approved a month later that is set to expire April 30.
The permanent ordinance expands the boundaries for the downtown protection zone two areas that were removed in 2009.
This vote in 2009 included removing properties along Alma St., High Street near Hamilton Avenue, along the circle ramps connecting University Avenue to Alma Street, and along Kipling and Cowper streets north of University Avenue.
Some of these properties are now office buildings, which means the offices are allowed to stay, but when they go out, retail would have to go in, according to city officials.
Jamie Wong, whose project at 429 Using University Ave. Was approved by Council last week, said the retail boundaries were carefully drawn in 2009 and some of the properties at University Avenue and on my street were not developed with retail in mind.
“It’s a crappy location for retail”, Wong said.
Several people in the peanut gallery argued counsel not to extend the retail protecting boundaries but to compress it to make it more pedestrian friendly.
This is why shopping malls work, said Judy Kleinberg, head of the city’s chamber of commerce.
Property owners and realtors of locations that were previously retail spoke to the struggles they’ve faced while trying to find a retail tenant.
Christian Hansen, owner of the building at almost Street and Addison Avenue that once housed Anthropologie, said he has been marketing the building for more than a year, but no one is interested in the 10,000 square-foot retail space at that location.
Yet the ordinance will require the Anthropologie building to remain a retail location.
Restaurants and fitness center representatives have approached him, but these uses aren’t allowed by the city, Hanson said, asking for a broader definition of retail.
Ehikian said he had a tenant for the space formerly occupied by North face before it moved to the Stanford shopping Center, but more parking was needed. However, the city’s ordinance wouldn’t let him demolish 2000 ft.² of the building to add more parking, so the place sits vacant he said.
Housing for 4146 El Camino Real, an empty lot next to the Zin motel and across the street from Starbucks in South Palo Alto.
The zoning for the lot currently allows 15 housing units per acre, but the owners want to want it rezoned for 30 units per acre.
This change would allow up to 23 units on the .76 acre site, and 21 units were proposed.
“This is an opportunity for better land use, “Hayes said, adding that it would provide much needed housing.
Vice Mayor Liz Kniss mentioned that leading up to the November election, candidates for city Council spoke to the need for more housing in the city, but she said now counsel is approach approaching a proposal for more housing rather cautiously.
A density bonus
Councilman Tom DuBois said his initial thoughts is to keep the zoning as it is, and he encouraged the developer to consider the state “density bonus, “which would allow a larger project if it included more low income housing.
Developers can get the bonus, which allows them to exceed local limits, in exchange for building affordable housing or senior housing.
In regards to the density bonus, Councilwoman Karen Holman said she was concerned that the belt developer could come back with an even bigger project than the current 21 condos proposed.
Under the bonus, the project could have as many as 80 additional housing units on top of the proposed 21, according to city officials.
Following his presentation, Councilman Eric Filseth said he hasn’t yet seen a compelling benefit for residents to allow more housing on the site.
Not ready for prime time
While Kniss said the area along El Camino Real is one of the areas in town where the city ought to look at more rather than less, she agreed that she didn’t think the proposal was ready for prime time.
Councilman Adrian Fine, however, wanted to see even more housing on the site. Fine said it’s nice to see a housing project. This is a more efficient use of scarce land, he said.
But find encouraged the property owner to look at a zoning change that would allow even more housing on the site maybe up to 40 units per acre.
The project is on El Camino, which is near retail and services, and an ideal spot for housing, he said.
“I think it would be great to have housing rather than a vacant lot on El Camino, “Fine said.
The lot was previously occupied by a home before it was a lot demolished in 1997. A lone billboard stood on the property until it was taken down last year. Councilman Greg Tanaka offered up another idea, saying the property owner should consider “microunits, “which would be about 300 square-foot apartments.
Last nights meeting was a preliminary review of the project to get councils feedback. The property owner hasn’t yet submitted a formal application to the city.