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Planning Commission Turns Down Dense Housing Project in South Palo Alto

Commissioners admit to the need for better planning.

In a turning of the tides, the Palo Alto Planning Commission denied an application Tuesday night from SummerHill Homes to build multiple-family dense housing along San Antonio Road. The vote was 6-1, with Commissioner Eduardo Martinez dissenting.

Dozens of residents from the Greenmeadow and Greendell neighborhoods in south Palo Alto filled the council chambers, pleading with commissioners to consider the impact dense housing has had on schools.

SummerHill applied for a zoning change in October last year to convert a 2.65-acre site at 525 San Antonio Rd. from a single-family residential zone into 23 new multi-family homes, a portion of which would include below-market housing. The Association of Bay Area Governments has mandated that Palo Alto build 2,860 new homes by 2014, particularly near transit to alleviate the growth in traffic congestion.

Six new students from here would go to the Palo Alto Unified School District, Katia Kamangar, senior vice president at SummerHill, said. The impact to schools would “not be potentially significant,” she said.

The site is in close proximity to the San Antonio Caltrain station and within walking distance to shopping on Middlefield Road, Kamangar said about the attractiveness of the site.

Most of the commissioners did not agree. The San Antonio station is likely to be closed and has only one train every hour, Commissioner Arthur Keller said. “It’s not a good place for higher-density housing,” Keller said. “It is not a pleasant walk from San Antonio Road to Piazza Shopping Center. Walking along Middlefield past the gas station, trying to navigate your way through the intersections there, it's not very pleasant.” 

South Palo Alto has received the disproportionate brunt of new housing, residents complained. Oregon Avenue divides Palo Alto into the “haves and have-nots,” Warren Storkman, a long-time south Palo Alto resident said. “We are the have-nots.” 

has seen a 25 percent increase in students in the last five years, said Srini Sankaran, a south Palo Alto resident. “That’s an increase of 121 students. Getting a playground reserved is getting extremely difficult. Playgrounds at Cubberly are booked five months in advance.”

Commissioner Keller agreed that the commission has not done a good job planning recent dense-housing projects. “If you want to build higher density housing, you should put it near transit and not hide it all over town,” he said. “In fact, that’s what we’ve done all over south Palo Alto. We’ve hid it on East Bayshore. We’ve put it where there are no amenities nearby.”

, which has occupied the site for more than three decades, plans to close its doors to its 300 students this year. The manager of the site, Herman Shaw, whose late wife’s heirs own the property, said dozens of housing developers had approached him with interest to purchase the property.

Aaron Selverston March 24, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Just curious, what do people think about all the growth in South Palo Alto? The city has to grow, and there isn't much space left to do it. Where do you think it should happen? And what kind of growth do you think would be best? Dense residential/mixed-use? McMansions?
Andrew Boone April 12, 2011 at 05:16 AM
Commissioner Keller is right that Palo Alto has put recent high-density housing in the wrong places - out on East Bayshore next to 101 is not only an unpleasant and unhealthy place to live, it means close to 100% of households will own a car and add traffic to the city. Palo Alto needs to get smart and put high-density housing where it belongs - near the Caltrain stations. And there is plenty of land and sky to do it. All those one and two-story buildings right next to the California Ave station are a waste of space - we need at least five stories there. More people means more fun! And parking spaces in new developments needs to be minimized, or we'll just get more cars than we already have.

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