Wed07302014

News

City commissions examine community center site planning


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
City commissioners convened last week to discuss site plans to replace the aging Hillview Community Center.

Members of five Los Altos commissions collaborated last week to determine how and where to fit the various elements of a new community center within the civic center campus.

According to Erica Ray, Los Altos public information coordinator, approximately 20 members representing the city’s Planning and Transportation (PTC), Historical, Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory (BPAC), Library and Environmental commissions convened April 16 to discuss placing a new 55,600-square-foot structure within the same general area occupied by the aging Hillview Community Center. The meeting preceded the public-input session scheduled 7 p.m. today at Los Altos Youth Center, 1 N. San Antonio Rd. to discuss placement of a new community center with preselected residents, groups and business owners.

BPAC Commissioner Suzanne Ambiel called the meeting “collaborative,” noting that commissions mostly stuck to their particular perspectives throughout the discussions.

The commission representatives were asked to place blocks representing various facets of a new center – playing fields, the community center building, a parking lot – on a map that replicated the current community center site, including the parking area, soccer field and the small parking area next to Bus Barn Theater.

“It was a great exercise because it showed how challenging it can be to accommodate all of the planning goals,” Ray said.

The representatives were also asked to rank the list of top community priorities for inclusion in a new community center, compiled from the public feedback meetings held earlier this year. The list included placing a new center within close proximity to downtown, establishing a multifaceted and multigenerational facility and ensuring safe access to the site for pedestrians and cyclists. Overall cost and the desire to see a sustainably designed structure were also top considerations, according to Ray.

PTC Commissioner Mike McTighe said the city’s approach has room to improve. The idea of building a new center in the same area as Hillview felt “restrictive,” he said, adding that confining a new structure to Hillview Avenue conflicts with public recommendations such as proximity to downtown. In advance of a possible bond measure, the Los Altos City Council previously directed city staff to research a new community center on the Hillview site.

McTighe suggested that the city consider opening up the civic center area map to include other potential areas beyond the predetermined site.

“We would’ve enjoyed that exercise – that would be safe to say,” McTighe said.

He noted that PTC members approached site planning the same way they review all proposed construction projects – researching traffic circulation and noise elements that offer the “least disruption to Hillview.”

McTighe said the PTC favored a two-story design with underground parking that vehicles could enter through the library parking lot.

“I was really encouraged by PTC and its focus to make the best of the situation, based on the criteria we were given and the predefined area,” he said.

McTighe concluded that representatives of all the commissions agreed on common themes – a two-story building and underground parking – while some favored additional aspects such as constructing a net-zero building like the Packard Foundation headquarters.

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