As a high-profile office and retail development at First and Main streets begins to wend its way through the public approval process, downtown boosters last week made clear the project could be improved.
Members of the grassroots group Los Altos Forward held a “Downtown Gateways 3.0” meeting May 15 at the 359 State Street bike shop, the last in a series of three meetings focused on optimal use for the First and Main property.
Led by architect Bill Maston, 25 participants reviewed criteria for gateway properties, then applied the criteria to the project proposed by developer Jeffrey A. Morris. Their concerns included the lack of sufficient public-benefit space at the corner facing the front of the project and positioning the parking ramp in the back of the proposed building facing Foothill Expressway.
The group produced three alternative site plans, two of which were as “economically viable” as the Jeffrey A. Morris Group’s current plan, according to Maston. They proposed wider sidewalks along First Street and a much larger open plaza at the corner of First and Main. Other suggestions included a water feature in the plaza, an access route and accommodations for bicycles, more outdoor dining and a drop-off zone for pedestrians.
Los Altos Forward members favored moving the two proposed buildings farther back from First Street and adding a second layer of underground parking. Current plans allow one level of underground parking.
“The contract (between Morris and the city) does not exempt him from public input and public due process,” Maston said. “This is a perfect time to get involved – you have the right to say, ‘Wow, I deserve to have an open space that represents my community or a piece of architecture that makes for an attractive gateway.’”
Some in the audience indicated concern about the project’s sailing through the process as is. Former Los Altos Mayor Jane Reed described the staff report on the Morris project as overly supportive. But Maston, who has experience as an architect working in Mountain View and Los Altos, said it’s not unusual for such a project to go through two or three revisions before council approval. He encouraged group members to offer input by emailing commissioners or councilmembers one to two days before the scheduled meeting.
“We’re not trying to slow down this process,” Maston said. “We’re giving (Morris) a jump-start (by giving input now instead of later) – this is extremely valuable to a developer.”