Opinion: City Council must decide how to handle proposals for high-rises
by Becca Raffel
Published October 19, 2012
The Palo Alto City Council, faced with two revolutionary decisions in an election year, lacks consistency in its responses to proposed building plans. The City Council must quickly decide on a precedent on how to deal with high rises, instead of supporting some building plans and vetoing others.
Proposed plans for a new John Arillaga-developed complex to be built on University Avenue near the Caltrain station as well as the new buildings on Page Mill Road at El Camino Real would both violate the city’s 50-foot height maximum on new developments.
It would make sense for the City Council to either accept both proposals or veto them, as the buildings proposed all appear to violate the same code. Yet this is not the case.
The City Council eagerly rushed through negotiations for the Arrillaga cultural center, profusely supporting it. However, in meetings for the Page Mill buildings, City Council members were hesitant about the prospective 71-foot tall buildings.
The 50-foot height limit has been around since the 1970s, and the same regulations apply currently under Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 1998. When the City Council deems it necessary, the height rules can be easily broken. A clear sign of this lies in the handful of buildings that exist today exceeding the 50-foot height limit.
The City Council recently pondered whether it is necessary to change the 50-foot height limit itself. The physical rules surrounding the development are obviously not the problem.
The City Council can blame its indecision on whatever regulations it wants, but the main question is this: can Palo Alto embrace the architectural 21st century?
The Page Mill buildings, proposed by the Jay Paul Co., also come attached to another offer. The Jay Paul Co. offers to contribute a considerable donation toward the development of a new Palo Alto fire and police department building across the street from the Page Mill buildings as well.
Consistency in the City Council becomes increasingly important when dealing with proposals such as these that could ultimately transform the image of the city.
All in all, the Palo Alto City Council needs to stop searching for a happy medium between two extremes. It has two choices: leave Palo Alto the way it is, or allow the development of high rises. Nothing more, nothing less, and definitely nothing in between.
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