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Palo Alto, Mountain View focusing future housing along this corridor. But can it handle the pressure?

PALO ALTO — As the city council considered another dense housing development along San Antonio Road Monday, residents warned the area desperately needs comprehensive urban planning to avoid what could quickly become a “concrete jungle” and transportation nightmare.

During a study session Monday evening, council members heard from a developer hoping to turn three buildings at 800 San Antonio Road into a five-story condominium complex with 75 condos, 15 of them affordable, underground parking and a suite of amenities.

While the council was generally in agreement the project is what the city wants to see in the area, many voiced their worry that too much development along the San Antonio Road corridor could spell disaster as bike and bus infrastructure is lackluster at best.


“I’m listening carefully to what all the members said and each of you brought up excellent points,” said Palo Alto resident Penny Ellson. “All of them point for the need for an area plan. We need to talk about how do these projects all connect and how does it connect with what will be built in Mountain View.”

Rendering of facade for proposed residential project at 800 San Antonio Road.<br />Courtesy: City of Palo Alto 

Both Mountain View and Palo Alto — faced with state demands to build more housing as the Bay Area continues to tackle its housing affordability crisis — have focused a large part of their future housing development on the historically industrial and commercial-heavy San Antonio Road.

The area has its political and economic benefits for both cities: developments are far from the expensive neighborhoods close to Castro Street and University Avenue where resident opposition is more likely, and industrial and commercial land in the area is cheaper for developers to build on. The San Antonio Road corridor also benefits from a Caltrain station at its center — which is where Mountain View has focused large developments — and connects Los Altos to Mountain View and Palo Alto along a heavily trafficked road that connects up to Highway 101.

While Mountain View has a highly-detailed general plan for their stretch of San Antonio Road — outlining height limits, aesthetic standards, parkland allotment and other urban design considerations — Palo Alto has long neglected a master plan to guide development in this neighborhood and others.

Already Palo Alto has seen massive housing development in the area. The council has approved a development adjacent to 800 San Antonio Road, and the rest of the block has been identified as lots for dense developments. The AC and Citrine hotels are down the road, the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life is just a block away, and there’s commercial retail in the area — including a Costco and other big box retailers on the Mountain View side.

Now that the area has become key for future housing growth, the need for a dedicated bus route along the corridor, safe and protected bike infrastructure and a decent network of parks and public amenities in the area has become crucial, council members say.

Mayor Pat Burt said the city must look at ways to dedicate parkland in the area too as the city expects “hundreds and perhaps even thousands of new units.” He said while there is retail in the area, there isn’t a lot that’s walkable. And he said that while the city has been talking about new urbanist concepts — walkability, bikeability and public transit — “we’re starting to develop this corridor and it’s not being done in an urbanist way.”


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