The Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) last week denied a parking variance for a downtown development slated for the corner of First Street and San Antonio Road.
The PTC voted unanimously to continue its review of a three-story, 17,156-square-foot office building at 467 First St. – at the corner of San Antonio – to a future date because it offered 45 total parking spaces instead of the 52 mandated by city zoning requirements. Prior to casting their votes, some commission members noted that they simply couldn’t support the variance because of the lack of parking in the downtown area already.
“I am really, strongly opposed to approving this unless the parking is solved. … Every time we approve one of these and we’re shy (spaces), it just keeps adding up,” said Commissioner Ken Lorell.
Some commissioners instead suggested that the project applicant – Southgate Partners LLC – explore alternatives like tandem parking spaces or vehicle parking lifts to fully supply the project, which currently calls for 29 underground and 16 surface-level spaces. Using alternate solutions like parking lifts or tandem parking systems to meet parking requirements would negate the need for a variance altogether, Assistant City Manager James Walgren said during commission discussion of the item.
“I just have a feeling there are options out there which have not been looked at in detail,” Commissioner Malika Junaid said prior to voting against the variance.
The commission’s decision came after project architect Ken Hayes said the variance was needed because of the site’s constrained configuration. The site, formerly home to a Chevron gas station, currently houses the Burger Town and The Barking Lot businesses.
Instead, Hayes said the project offers other amenities that could be considered in lieu of its parking shortage, such as 12 additional bicycle parking spaces. Offering transit vouchers for commuters working there is another possible mitigating measure, he added.
“If you provide all of the regular parking, everybody’s just going to drive to work,” Hayes said. “If you provide alternatives, people think differently.”
Hayes noted that the project could be credited for as much as six parking spaces as well because it was designed with approximately 25 percent “inefficient” space – unusable office space for amenities like restrooms, hallways and lobbies – in order “to make the building look nice.”
Still, some commissioners were quick to note that stomaching a project without the needed spaces would be tough, especially when parking in the downtown triangle already appears to be at a premium.
“I can’t imagine how this commission would be looked at if we allowed a variance in an already crowded city. It just doesn’t work,” Commission Chairman Jerry Moison said of the project’s current parking configuration.
Commissioner Ronit Bodner added that while she generally approved of the building’s design, green-lighting the parking variance could set a negative precedent.
“I’m a big fan of this building and of this project,” she said, “but it has to be (fully) parked. … The rules are not aspirational. They need to park it.”