As he presented an updated design at last week’s Los Altos Planning Commission meeting, architect Jeff Potts said he and developer Mircea Voskerician were “excited” about their newly proposed Altos II multifamily housing project at 4898 El Camino Real.
By the time the commission voted 6-0 to recommend the project to the city council – member Ronit Bodner was absent – Commissioner Sally Meadows confirmed they were excited as well.
“You did a lot in a short period of time and it made a dramatic difference,” Meadows said, looking over at the pair Aug. 15.
Voskerician and Potts returned with what commission chairman Alexander Samek described as a more “elegant” look after receiving the commission’s feedback on their previous design Aug. 1. City staff and Potts, principal architect at SDG Architects, worked quickly to refine the building to look more residential and less like the negative descriptors used at the first meeting, including a “cruise ship.”
The elevator tower in particular was reconfigured and broken up with wood and stucco so that it no longer evoked comparisons to an airport control tower or a prison tower. Additional wood was added to the exterior sides of the building to soften the architecture there as well.
Devil’s in the details
The major modification on the project, according to Potts, was switching the type of exterior stone to an option with a smoother veneer and superior texture. The “superbanding” – as Commissioner Doo Ho Lee dubbed the original “heavy” mass of the balconies that wrapped around the building – was also eliminated, railing details and feel were refashioned and landscaping was altered to incorporate more trees.
The footprint of the Altos II development – its total square footage and elevations – remained nearly unchanged despite the new plans offering the option of a 21-unit complex (the previously proposed design) or a 28-unit complex (possible by breaking down some of the units and turning them into affordable-by-design apartments), Potts said. The roof deck concept, a concern to some commissioners but not others at the Aug. 1 meeting, was left as is.
During last week’s review of the project, multiple commissioners expressed disappointment that the 21 units were primarily three-bedroom and four-bedroom apartments. Voskerician said he and Potts opted for variations that would increase the number of below-market-rate units. Commissioners reached a consensus that while it was ultimately up to the council, they preferred the 28-unit option for the five-story building. Even with seven more units, the project would include ample parking by state standards and exceed the city’s open space requirements, associate planner Sean Gallegos told the commission.
“I think that the 28-unit (option) is a no-brainer,” Commissioner Phoebe Bressack said, agreeing with Commissioner Mehruss Ahi, who deemed adding units without increasing the height or mass of the building a “win-win.” “What was really lush parking has now become kind of normal parking but … I believe it’s a good trade-off.”
Room for improvement
Commissioners concluded that the reworked Altos II design was much improved from the team’s Aug. 1 proposal.
“There’s a delicate nature to this project, which is difficult to achieve for a building of this size,” Lee said.
Before recommending the project to the city council, commissioners suggested improving minor details such as the aesthetics of the balcony railings, lighting in the staircase near the building’s front and awnings missing from the windows.
“I wonder about the safety of the (railing) design, whether it feels in some ways like a ladder,” Lee said. “You’re promoting a little bit of a potential missteps in climbing. That’s something to look out for.”
The commission’s recommendation to the council supported either the 21-unit or 28-unit proposal.
“We would want to see this project approved either way, and I wouldn’t want it to … ” Samek said.
“Die,” Bressack finished.