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Facing residents’ opposition, Los Altos Planning Commission continues Loyola Corners multiuse project discussion

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Story poles mark Gregg Bunker’s property at 999 Fremont Ave., which he hopes to develop into a two-story, mixed-use building with one level of retail space and one level of housing. The Coffee Drive Up currently on the lot would be demolished. Loyola Corners residents argue that the proposed building would create a visual impairment at an intersection they already deem dangerous.

A proposed two-story development in Loyola Corners drew myriad complaints at the Sept. 19 Los Altos Planning Commission meeting, with approximately 20 residents sounding off. 

Opponents of the project raised one particular concern repeatedly: At the already-busy intersection, a building of the size proposed for the “postage stamp” lot at 999 Fremont Ave. would create a visual impairment.

City staff, however, advised the commission that the project was fully compliant.

Caught between the opposing viewpoints, commissioners voted 4-0 to continue discussion of the project application to their Oct. 17 meeting. Commissioners Alexander Samek, Ronit Bodner and Doo Ho Lee were absent.

5-year trek

Project applicant and property owner Gregg Bunker emphasized to commissioners how long he had been working with city staff to revise his blueprints to secure approval. The project’s current iteration is at least the 10th, he estimated, and he went through five architects in five years. The latest architect, Peter Sandholdt of the Danville-based FCGA Architecture, did not draft the current renderings, which are labeled with the Dahlin Group logo. Sandholt described the union as “recent.”

Bunker said he kept residents’ input in mind, leading to a “safer project” with fewer cars after the proposed removal of Coffee Drive Up. In the latest iteration, mirrors would be installed at the top of the building’s garage, and a device would sound when cars were exiting. On the triangle-shaped lot, with all sides open to the street, Bunker started with six condominiums and has scaled down to three, none of which is listed as “affordable.”

Bunker, who has lived in Los Altos for 45 years, listened as many of his neighbors objected to his project. After Commissioner David Marek asked Sandholdt his opinion on the parade of protests alleging that the project’s combination of retail and residential square footage was too large for the 0.18-acre lot, rows full of neighbors applauded.

Sandholdt debunked the criticisms Loyola Corners residents leveled – the mass of the building, its lack of scale and its location at a congested crossroads already believed to be unsafe for children to walk or ride their bikes – by referring to studies conducted. All traffic reports were complete, he said, city requirements for parking and the garage were met, entry doors for the retail space were recessed so as not to block sidewalks and the area conformed to the site’s Specific Plan criteria.

Revised in 2017, the Specific Plan prohibits setbacks on Fremont and Miramonte avenues as well as the A Street bridge. Bunker’s design takes the building all the way out to the property lines.

Recommendations

Although some concerns over the project – which features 14 parking spaces and nearly 17,000 square feet of commercial and living space – related to the 999 Fremont Ave. property, some of the frustration centered on the intersection at which Bunker’s lot is located.

When the plan was updated, Commissioner Sally Meadows reminded those present, commissioners agreed to a building height of two stories. A one-story structure was never on the table, she said. When traffic studies were conducted, the recommendation was to keep things as is, which Meadows admitted “may have not been ideal.”

“The proposal does objectively fit. … We have to review what is in front of us,” she said. “Not the intersection, the one lot.”

Commissioner Phoebe Bressack said Loyola Corners was not developed well and thus traffic is “appalling.” She described the design of Bunker’s project as “handsome” but acknowledged that while it meets the standards developers are asked to adhere to by the city, it might not meet the needs of the community.

“This is above our pay grade,” Bressack said, noting that it is up to the city council to reach a final verdict.

Commissioner Mehruss Ahi, an architect, suggested that Sandholdt cut the corners of the building at Miramonte and Fremont avenues and at A Street and Fremont rather than rounding them, as it might improve visibility and create the impression that some elements were pushed back.

Ultimately, the commission followed the recommendation of Community Development Director Jon Biggs, who recommended continuing the item with direction to develop and include a detailed construction management plan, consider taking Ahi’s advice on the corners and improve the design on the Miramonte side of the building.

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