September 8, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters
When City Council approved a new Housing Incentive Program early this year for Downtown, California Avenue, and El Camino Real area commercial zones, at least one property owner was paying attention.
Where applicable, the HIP allows for significant increases in built floor area relative to lot size, known as Floor Area Ratio, along with other housing development incentives. In October 2018, council had prescreened a project at 788-796 San Antonio Avenue that sought a zoning change from CS (Commercial Service) to RM-40 (Residential Mixed Use) to allow redevelopment of the site as a four-story, 54-unit residential project. Subsequent passage of the Housing Incentive Program (HIP), however, gave the applicant a better idea: if I stick with CS zoning and can get the city to extend the HIP to this part of town, I can build a much bigger project.
The property owner pitched City Council the idea of extending the HIP in May 2019. Despite last year’s sizable controversy over approval of two nearby Marriott hotels due to anticipated congestion impacts, City Council appeared open to the prospect, even though it would further densify the immediate area. So the applicant submitted new plans and requested zoning code amendments extending the HIP to all CS zoned properties adjacent to San Antonio Road between Middlefield and Charleston Roads. The new plans envision a mixed-use project with 102 for-sale housing units, with 15 percent restricted to below-market rate. The Architectural Review Board provided initial feedback on the project’s architecture, massing and site design on August 15.
This week the Planning and Transportation Commission will hold a public hearing on the scope of a required Environmental Impact Report for the project and will offer initial comments on the proposed zoning amendments which include the following:
- Establishing a HIP that includes a waiver to allow up to a 2.0 FAR for housing projects (doubling the current FAR for combined residential and commercial use in that CS zoned site) and changes to lot coverage restrictions;
- Eliminating unit density limits;
- Allowing rooftop gardens to count towards required open space;
- Excluding the first 1,500 square feet of retail floor area from parking requirements;
- Amending the citywide retail preservation requirements to:
- Modify waiver standards to allow exceptions for housing projects; or
- Establish minimum retail floor area replacement requirements for housing projects, but not require full replacement; or
- Waive all or part of the required replacement retail floor area from the maximum FAR for housing projects.
Though not subject to PTC review, the project also seeks approval of a nine percent parking reduction and a partial waiver of retail space requirements. In addition, the project requires demolition of a building that appears to be eligible for listing on the California Register for Historic Resources.
The PTC hearing will begin at 6:00 pm on September 11. More detail about the project is available in the staff report.