PTC sends right message on 40 Main: Editorial

We’re encouraged to hear members of the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission say that they are willing to work with two frustrated Los Altos developers in their nearly nine-year quest to build an office building at the northern gateway to the downtown area.

Commissioners June 15 discussed the latest iteration of a three-story office building proposal from Ted and Jerry Sorensen for their 40 Main St. property. The plans met with objections heard before: nonconforming building height, not enough parking. But positives also surfaced: more office space for the sleepy end of downtown, a design complementing the “village-y” style of neighboring buildings.

Some commissioners, rightfully so, questioned the fairness of granting variances to some downtown projects but not others, i.e., the Sorensens’.

The 40 Main case brings to light inconsistencies in the city’s planning process. The 40 Main design lacks “architectural integrity,” according to one critic, but it meets 23 of 24 downtown design guidelines. Why does a “village-y” project face such opposition when compared with the modern, three-story office building nearly complete at San Antonio Road and First Street? We’re not saying that the San Antonio and First building should not have been approved; we’re simply noting that the city appears to have applied a different standard to 40 Main.

A perceived lack of parking seems to be a hangup. Current code requires 29 additional stalls. But two reports from parking experts determined that the Sorensens’ building would have no significant impact on the 90-stall Parking Plaza 10, located behind their property. Further, a restriped Plaza 10 could create as many as 20 additional spaces. The Sorensens have the plans to make it happen.

The Sorensens’ case also calls into question whether the city’s current 3.3 required parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of development is fair. The need for parking has evolved with the advent of Uber and driverless cars. Is the city asking too much?

The PTC directed the Sorensens to return with a restriping plan. Commissioners also offered suggestions for improving the project’s design, including reducing the building’s size – something the developers seem willing to do.

The path to approval may still be a struggle, but we’re pleased the message has gone from “There is no solution” to “Let’s find a way to make it work.”

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