27 University Ave. project revised to reflect height concerns

Nov. 30, 2012, 1:52 a.m.
27 University Ave. project revised to reflect height concerns
(MADELINE SIDES/The Stanford Daily)

After objections forced a reduction in size, the revised 27 University Avenue project will be discussed during the Dec. 3 Palo Alto City Council meeting.

The project, funded by John Arrillaga ’60, proposes the construction of an “arts and innovation district” near the Palo Alto Caltrain station. After initial concern from the city council, the new proposal includes a reduced land footprint as well as a decrease in building height from 150 feet to just over 100 feet, still exceeding the city’s statutory limit of 50 feet.

“The scale of the office buildings were way too big on the prior proposal,” City Councilman Pat Burt said. “I still hope that we can reduce the size.”

City Councilman Greg Schmid declined to take an official stance on the project until he had finished reading the proposal in its entirety, but said that the project’s size would have a definite impact on the city’s landscape.

“It’s a large and massive building that abuts the downtown,” he said. “It will have a big impact on downtown Palo Alto.”

The proposal contains plans to construct a theater, which will house the drama group TheatreWorks, as well as office space. In addition, the plan entails the modernization of the adjoining transit center and the relocation of the MacArthur Park building, a World War I-era historic monument designed by Julia Morgan. The plans also call for a continuous bike thoroughfare into downtown from Quarry Road.

While the new proposal will be discussed in depth at the meeting, a lengthy process is required before a final decision can be made. Schmid said that developers have asked the council to order a popular referendum on the project.

“They want us to prepare a draft ballot measure, probably for the June election, to get public approval for the project,” he said, adding that he believed that the council would approve the request on Monday.

While the University is not directly involved in the proposal, the land on which the building complex would be constructed is owned by Stanford, but unlike the majority of the campus, lies within the jurisdiction of the City of Palo Alto. In addition, Arrillaga has stated his intent to donate the proceeds of the project to the University.

Part of the impetus for the project is the connection of the city’s downtown area to the Stanford side of El Camino Real.

“A project on this site could link downtown with the Stanford Shopping Center and hospitals,” Burt said.

Stanford Director of Community Relations Jean McCown said that the University supports the project. McCown said that the University has been involved in talks with Palo Alto for more than a decade to develop the area and redesign the Caltrain station, pointing to a 2002 joint study released by Stanford and Palo Alto.

“The idea is not brand new,” she said.

Schmid said that most of the feedback that he has received on the proposal has been negative, but said this was to be expected as opposition to most projects tends to get involved earlier and be more vocal than support.

Palo Alto resident Martin Sommer has started a Change.org petition, “Stop the proposed high-rise buildings at 27 University Avenue,” to urge the mayor and the city council to oppose the project. He had received 158 supporters as of Nov. 29.

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