Tue09022014

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Council unanimously approves First & Main project


Photo By: COURTESY OF JEFFREY A. MORRIS
Photo Courtesy Of Jeffrey A. Morris

The Jeffrey A. Morris Group’s plan for a mixed-use development received final approval Sept. 25.

The city-owned property at the corner of First and Main streets will soon have a new owner.

The Los Altos City Council approved the Jeffrey A. Morris Group’s plan for a mixed-use development at the corner lot Sept. 25, voting unanimously in favor of the project.

The council’s vote comes on the heels of the project’s unanimous approval by the Planning and Transportation Commission Aug. 16. Morris’ plans call for a two-story, 31,000-square-foot, Class A office and retail development on the 0.78-acre site.

The project features 137 parking spaces – including 90 single-level underground spaces – and a 3,900-square-foot plaza nestled between a pair of two-story structures connected by a second-floor enclosed span. A 20-foot-wide water feature fronts the plaza entrance along First Street.

Morris first entered into a purchase agreement with the city to develop the site in February 2010. Ron Labetich, a local commercial real estate broker who helped facilitate Morris’ agreement with the city, called the project a boon for downtown Los Altos.

“It’s a good project for the town because it provides much-needed office and retail space,” he said.

Mixed reactions

Public reaction to the project, however, appeared mixed prior to the council’s vote.

Mountain View architect Bill Maston told the council that while Morris incorporated improvements into the project throughout the review process, more could be done.

Maston then presented an alternate concept featuring a plaza at the corner of Main and First streets, while pushing a portion of the structure toward the property’s edge with Foothill Expressway.

Maston noted that he was able to maintain the same square-footage within a two-story structure while retaining the same number of parking spaces by placing more of them in a reconfigured underground parking structure.

“I haven’t worked out all of these details, but what it does tell us is that there’s a huge opportunity here that could still be investigated,” said Maston, who called his concept’s corner plaza “a stronger entry point.”

Former Los Altos Planning Commissioner Mike Abrams told the council that as a gateway property, the project needed to be “treated differently,” adding that three-story concepts should be considered for the site, despite the city’s 30-foot-high zoning restriction. He encouraged the council “to slow down and deliver to the community a gateway property that future generations will respect.”

Downtown property owner Bart Nelson, meanwhile, outlined his concerns about the loss of the site’s public parking spaces, noting that the city originally purchased the property in 1995 for that purpose.

“Congestion kills village character,” he said.

Others, however, spoke favorably of Morris’ project, including Adobe Systems co-founder and University Avenue resident Chuck Geschke, who told the council “it’s about time” that the site was developed.

“I’ve lived for 15 years now across the street from nothing,” he said. “It’s time to fix downtown.”

Village Stationers owner Kerry Hoctor also voiced support for the project, saying how he opened his store in downtown Los Altos in part because of ongoing new development projects along First Street.

“I support the project, not only as a retailer, to bring people downtown, but I just think it’s beautiful,” Hoctor said of the design, which also drew support from the Los Altos Village Association and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce.

Ultimately, the council gave the go-ahead for the project, albeit with conditions that included working with city staff on a plan that would park construction crews either on the property itself or outside of the immediate downtown area.

Prior to casting her vote, Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said that while she was intrigued by Maston’s alternate concept, she ultimately favored Morris’ design, featuring a public plaza at the First Street frontage. A plaza at the corner of First and Main streets – as suggested by Maston’s concept – could end up being underused by the public, as is the city’s current plaza at Main and State streets, she noted.

“I’m able to move forward with this project,” Satterlee said. “I think it has achieved what I hoped it would achieve.”

Councilman David Casas added that while he understands residents’ various desires for the project, it couldn’t possibly achieve everyone’s ideal vision.

“This is a property that the community clearly has a vested vision on what they personally would like to see,” he said. “It cannot be one thing for everyone. This is a good project. The end result is that this building will serve our community well.”

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