The Palo Alto City Council will consider whether or not, and how, to change or adjust land-use designation process within city limits. The Council will begin Monday October 6 to look at modifying the city’s somewhat difficult planned-community zoning, which was paused due to a citizen referendum. The current zoning which has been in place since the early 1950s gives developers options to seek exceptions to current development rules in turn for public benefits that are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Previous public benefits include everything from public common plazas, retail stores, sculptures, and affordable residential units.
The Municipal Code for Palo Alto is purposefully vague in the definition of public benefits. The rationale is that it gives the councilmembers freedom and flexibility in requesting items from builders/developers. Since the planned-community (PC) zoning was suspended and many residents have organized against bigger/denser projects the councilmembers are preparing to either adjust the process or eliminate it.
The Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission have held two public hearings on the topic. From those hearing the recommendations include; 1) better definitions of public benefits; 2) use of independent economic analysis to review the value of the requests; and 3) definition of the roles and responsibilities of local commissions.
The general consensus of the group was that PC zoning or something very similar to it should remain in the city’s development tool box.
The Palo Alto planned-community zoning district has been in place since 1951 which has been used to approve about 100 projects. The city revised the process in 1978.
The planned College Terrace Centre at 2180 El Camino Real and the new building at 101 Lytton Avenue (4 stories) utilized planned-community zoning to create projects with ample office space. The planning department recently provided a list of changes for the council members to consider in its effort; 1) set specific criteria for where PC projects could be allowed; 2) create a menu of public benefits that would add predictability and decrease flexibility; and 3) possible affordable and senior housing.
Another alternative discussed would have a two-tier system in which some types of projects would use development agreements and others would choose public benefits.
The council is not completely on board with any solutions or resolutions yet. The council’s Monday meeting is a study session, thus no formal votes will be taken and no changes made.
Please attend if you are a Palo Alto resident, developer, or stakeholder.