A developer is asking the City of Palo Alto for a zoning change that would allow a 20-condominium development to be built next to the Town & Country Village shopping center.
The application filed May 23 by Edward Storm of Stormland LLC builds on the city’s recently created “Planned Housing Zone,” which allows residential developers to negotiate with the city on development standards. In this case, the project in a commercial zone would require exemptions to allow greater height and density.
If approved, the project would be located at 70 Encina Ave., a site just north of Town & Country and just south of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation which is currently a parking lot. Under existing commercial zoning, the site would only be allowed to have a floor area ratio of 0.6, which would limit development to four units, Jeff Galbraith, director of Hayes Group Architects, wrote to the city.
“This limited development potential severely hampers the number of housing units that can be built,” Galbraith wrote. “Coupled with high land prices, this also calls into question the inclusion of affordable housing.”
The developer is asking the city to quadruple the authorized density to 2.4. The project would also exceed the city’s 50-foot height limit, according to architectural plans, with the parapet increasing its height to 55 feet. The board would need to approve this exemption for the development to progress.
According to Galbraith’s letter, the project would consist of 12 one-bedroom condominiums averaging 1,320 square feet and an average price of $1.65 million, according to Galbraith. The remaining eight units would be two-bedroom condominiums averaging 1,035 square feet and priced at $1.29 million.
Due to the commercial zoning of the site, council will have wide discretion over the project. Other recent residential projects such as the 74 townhouse development proposed by The Sobrato Organization on the site of the former Fry’s Electronics Building and the 48 condominium complex of SummerHill Homes at 2850 W. Bayshore Road build on state laws such as Senate Bill 330 to ensure quick approval and minimal modifications by the city to the initial proposal. But because Stormland relies on “planned domestic zoning”, Encina’s project will have to go through a pre-selection hearing, giving the council the chance to modify or refuse the project.
Galbraith wrote in the letter that the proposed design is “environmentally supported as there are planned adjacent community and hospital buildings of similar height.” The proposed development would be approximately one block from the LifeMoves Opportunity Services Center, which provides transitional housing and services to homeless people. The LifeMoves building at 33 Encina Ave. also exceeds the height limit of the city.
Stormland is one of the few developers to have chosen to rely on the “planned home zoning” process since the council created it in 2020 to encourage more housing. Although many applicants went through the process of shortlisting their projects, most ultimately refrained from advancing their proposals. The only exception is Smith Development, which last December filed a formal application for a mixed-use complex at 660 University Ave.
Smith had recently revised plans for the four-story project, which now consists of office space on the ground floor of 65 residential units on the top three floors. The application is currently being reviewed by the City’s Department of Planning and Development Services.