The Architecture and Site Review Committee issued just one recommendation to those planning a new development at First and Main streets: Keep working on it.
The committee – comprising three Los Altos Planning Commissioners – voted unanimously May 16 to schedule a study session with the full commission June 7 to review site-plan options from the Jeffrey A. Morris Group that better reflect the qualities desired in a downtown gateway development.
The Morris Group, which entered into a purchase agreement with the city in February 2010 for the 0.78-acre plot, seeks city approval to build a mixed-use retail and office development totaling 31,671 square feet.
Commissioner Kenneth Lorell said the study session could serve as a meeting of the minds, allowing both Morris and the Planning Commission to examine various options to optimize use of the site.
“You’ll get the benefit of our thinking, and we get the benefit of (yours),” Lorell told the group’s namesake. “It gives us a better understanding in a more informal setting (of) what your concerns are, and it gives you maybe some different perspectives about what we’re thinking.”
The decision came after residents and downtown property owners expressed concerns that the current site plan didn’t provide enough public gathering space and wasn’t inviting enough for a gateway development, among other complaints.
Morris’ plan calls for a pair of two-story buildings along First Street starting from the undeveloped corner of First and Main streets. It includes an enclosed span that bridges the two buildings on the second-floor level and a 35-foot-by-53-foot courtyard at street level.
Architect Bill Maston told the committee he favored a plan that would set one of the structures back on the site to the corner of Foothill Expressway and Main Street, allowing more public space at the corner of First and Main.
“Without any real diminishing of square footage, we could have a site plan that offers the same benefits to the developer as it does to the public,” he said.
Taylor Robinson, co-founder of Passerelle Investment Co., which owns several downtown properties, asked the commission to consider the plan “from the pedestrian perspective.”
Local property owner Kent Nelson urged the committee to deny approval. He said the development resembles a “business park” and wasn’t appropriate for a gateway site.
Others, however, offered support for the current plan, including representatives of the Los Altos Village Association and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President Julie Rose read a letter of support from board Chairman David Bergman calling the current development plans “very beneficial to downtown Los Altos.”
Morris’ proposal “requires a higher level of scrutiny and public engagement” because it involves the use of land currently owned by the city, Commissioner Jeannie Bruins said.
“I’m just not convinced this is the right thing for our residents,” she said.
Commissioner Malika Junaid added that she was “struggling with the current plan,” despite her appreciation for certain aspects of it, including its surface-level parking.
Lorell said he hoped the study session would lead to a better development for Morris and the public.
“We’re going to be looking at whatever’s there for the next 50 or 100 years,” Lorell said. “I think we really owe it to ourselves to make a special effort not to make it just OK, but to really try to optimize it.”