More retail could go office at 400 Main St.

Los Altos parking
Madison Ivy / Town Crier Intern
Drivers search for parking in downtown Los Altos last week. Los Altos Planning Commissioners weighed changes to the city’s parking regulations at their Jan. 4 meeting and will revisit the topic again at their Feb. 15 meeting.

Los Altos Planning Commission members are scheduled to consider approval Thursday of a second ground-floor space at 400 Main St. that would allow office space in place of retail.

In a move to combat the trend of declining retail space nationwide, commissioners are set to review a conditional-use permit that would enable Keller Williams Real Estate to occupy the 3,000-square-foot retail space previously occupied by Pharmaca, which closed its doors last year.

City staff, recommending approval, said granting the use permit “would achieve 100 percent occupancy of the building, and with its employees and clients, help activate this portion of the downtown.”

Another previously designated retail space at 400 Main received approval last year for use as office space, after sitting empty since the completion of the building in 2014.

Planning commissioners had agreed with a staff interpretation that a permit for another use could be given because there was no displacement of a retail business.

The Heising-Simons Foundation, which occupies second-story offices at 400 Main, also has a ground-floor office as a result.

Meanwhile, a scheduled public hearing and discussion of proposed regulations for accessory dwelling units, also known as “granny units,” has been postponed a second time.

The matter, initially scheduled for the commission’s Jan. 4 meeting, had been postponed to Thursday’s meeting before being moved to the commission’s Feb. 1 meeting.

Parking discussion

Planning commissioners weighed the potential consequences of implementing changes to the city’s parking regulations at their Jan. 4 meeting before deciding they needed more information. Commissioners are scheduled to tackle the issue again at their Feb. 15 meeting.

Commission Chairwoman Sally Meadows took note of “philosophical differences” among commissioners over whether parking rules, particularly downtown, should be eased in an effort to increase economic “vitality.”

Commissioners Ronit Bodner and Alexander Samek appeared to favor proposals such as restriping downtown parking plazas to include more spaces and lowering the ratio of required parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of downtown building space.

Commissioners Phoebe Bressack and Anita Enander worried that such actions could worsen the problem and negatively impact vitality.

Bressack said fees collected through a parking in-lieu fee program – fees paid by developers who don’t provide parking – should be directed toward a specific goal, like building a downtown parking structure.

Given the avalanche of information collected by the disbanded Citywide Parking Committee, Community Development Director Jon Biggs said the city hired a consultant, Walker Parking Consultants of Los Angeles, to review it. Walker concluded most of the information and recommendations were sound.

Biggs asked commissioners for input in writing a draft ordinance with three specific goals: setting minimum ratios for onsite parking requirements, revising parking stall dimension standards and developing a parking in-lieu program with an “appropriate” in-lieu fee.

Among its many recommendations, the Citywide Parking Committee proposed an onsite parking ratio of 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail, 3.2 for services and 2 for office, in the downtown parking district.

The committee also proposed reducing parking stall widths from the current 9 feet to 8.5 feet and proposed an in-lieu fee of $20,000 per stall.

The Los Altos City Council disbanded the parking committee in 2016 over alleged Brown Act violations. The controversy centered on subcommittee meetings that were not publicly noticed, a consulting attorney ruled, a violation of the state’s open meetings law. However, councilmembers determined that the information collected by the committee was not tainted and could be used in drafting an ordinance.

Enander claimed the committee’s report contained “data anomalies” and suggested a more thorough review of its information with Bodner, with the intent of bringing to light additional recommendations.

“I don’t want things to get lost,” Bodner said.

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