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50-apartment project on El Camino gets OK from Palo Alto commission

A project that would bring 50 apartment units to El Camino Real has won a strong endorsement by the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission.

The Sobrato Organization plans to replace the building occupied by Mike’s Bikes at 3001 El Camino Real with two residential buildings and 19,800 square feet of retail space.

One of the buildings would have 30 apartments and the other 20. The apartments would be a mix of studios and one-bedroom units.

The size of the units — from 543 to 750 square feet — was a selling point for commissioners, who voted 5-0 to recommend the City Council approve the project.

Commission Chairman Michael Alcheck said he’s happy to see a mixed-use housing development on El Camino near public transit, offices and services.

“As a city, collectively, we have identified this area as exactly suitable for what is being proposed,” Alcheck said. “We often talk about housing a lot on this commission and this is exactly what I have been yearning for. It’s really a breath of fresh air that is meeting some of these needs.”

Alcheck also said he appreciates property owner-developers being forthright about the possibility of asking the city in the future for permission to establish a restaurant at the site, which would require more parking.

Only one resident spoke against the project during the commission’s July 12 meeting.

Sandra Lockhart, who lives on Olive Avenue, said the proposed buildings are massive and out of context with the small, single-family houses on her street.

“I have watched and stood by while our end of town is being eaten up by developments,” Lockhart said. “I am disappointed that you all are contemplating yet another 50 housing units.”

Because Lockhart was the only resident to express concerns, Commissioner Przemek Gardias questioned whether the city had properly notified neighbors of the proposed project.

“We have a 50 feet tall project, which is truly large and overwhelming for the neighborhood and we have one speaker card,” Gardias said. “It doesn’t feel like Palo Alto. Something is missing.”

Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said the likely answer could be that the project is not asking for any zoning variances. The site has multiple zoning designations, including multi-family residential, service commercial and single-family residential.

“It is completely consistent with the zoning for the area and it is something that many of us think the region really needs — which is more rental housing, so maybe it’s an omen of things to come,” Gitelman said.