Wed10222014

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What to do with the parking plazas?

Photo Graphic By Elliott Burr/Town Crier Parking plazas shown in red could be redeveloped into three-story mixed-use buildings. The green lot indicates where the city may consider a parking garage. Officials say they would also mull development of the gray area.

Katie Boenninghausen, a Los Altos mom and resident of eight years, would like to see more office and residential projects built downtown.

Malcolm Milanovich, 22, who has worked in several Main Street shops, said he favors something to spice up the nightlife.

And Barbara Bjørnstad, who often visits Los Altos from Sunnyvale, has “always been disappointed there aren’t more restaurants.”

Then there’s 10-year-old Brennan Denzel, who said downtown “needs an Apple store.” His friend Chris couldn’t agree more.

As a plan to solicit private developers to transform three downtown parking plazas into buildings inches toward reality, public sentiment varies on their ideal use. Some may fancy the status quo, but city officials welcome all ideas.

“Nothing’s off the table,” according to Assistant City Manager James Walgren.

City officials said they hope they can reboot downtown with a plan that would facilitate private developers’ construction of office buildings behind existing Main Street stores.

The first public study session to gather feedback is scheduled 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at Hillview Community Center’s Social Hall next to Room 2. A Request for Proposal could be circulated among interested parties late this year or sometime in 2012.

Walgren said the most efficient way to attract patrons to existing shops and restaurants downtown is to build and populate office space. Once the daytime foot traffic increases, he said, prospective retailers and restaurateurs would hopefully migrate to Los Altos.

If an overwhelming number of residents request a retail presence, Walgren noted, then that would also be considered. However, it would likely be limited to the ground floor, with offices occupying the top two floors.

“If we have an opportunity to have large-box retail on the ground floor, we would not rule it out,” he said. “We don’t have too many large 1-acre properties” downtown.

Councilmembers in July approved an environmental impact report (EIR) for a hypothetical 200,000-square-foot office building atop parking plazas behind Main Street retail shops from First Street past Third Street. Completing a worst-case-scenario EIR could expedite future development proposals, according to city officials. Any residential or retail proposals would require an amended EIR, which Walgren said would still be faster than starting from scratch.

 

What about the parking?

Building atop parking plazas would eliminate the existing 380 spots, but the city could require underground public parking as a component, according to senior city planner Zach Dahl, which could actually increase spots by approximately 100.

“Whatever the project is, all existing public parking will be replaced,” he said. “Exact terms of the development have not yet been identified.”

City officials are also considering the possibility of a public parking garage on one of the city’s North Parking plazas near Safeway on First Street, although that awaits further conversation.

Dahl said the city would require a supplemental EIR for that project, but only after officials formulate a parking in-lieu program that would allow developers to purchase parking spots from the city to satisfy building code requirements if they fall short.

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