Downtown zoning underwent significant changes following a Feb. 9 Los Altos City Council action. The changes will pave the way for taller buildings with mixed uses along the downtown perimeter.
The bulk of the rezoning changes, unanimously approved after a lengthy public hearing, apply to First Street. Although the Safeway and Draeger’s Market properties and the city-owned plot at First and Main streets will retain a Commercial Retail Sales (CRS) zoning, most of the street is rezoned to permit office and residential uses. CRS zoning, with its two-story, 30-foot maximum, remains prevalent throughout the retail core of Main and State streets.
Coupled with last week’s approval of streetscape plans for First Street and San Antonio Road, the changes have the clear intent to attract more development – and people – to a struggling downtown.
The streetscape project, which addresses improvements to sidewalks and landscaping, also includes undergrounding utilities through a partnership with PG&E. The utility is scheduled to work on First between Edith and Main this summer.
The changes, a combination of recommendations from the Downtown Development Committee and the city’s planning commission, become effective 30 days after the second reading of the zoning amendment, scheduled for the Tuesday council meeting.
“I’m very pleased that councilmembers approved this,” said Councilwoman Val Carpenter, chairwoman of the Downtown Development Committee.
The committee’s recommendations for First included extending the commercial/retail zone along First between Safeway and Draeger’s, allowing residential units on first floors from Main to San Antonio and raising the building height limit to 45 feet.
Although the planning commission approved the Downtown Development Committee’s recommendations Jan. 21, relinquishing retail and service business space for housing units on First has been a source of concern among committee members and some commissioners, which prompted the commission to introduce a 10-year sunset clause for the south end of First. The clause would allow those businesses additional time to comply with the new regulations.
Councilmembers, however, rejected the sunset provision.
“The primary disadvantage is, you’re building in a nonconforming situation,” said Assistant City Manager James Walgren. “There’s no need for it – you either adopt (the new zoning) or you don’t.”
Councilman Lou Becker said he opposed the sunset clause.
“Things change over the years, and we have room to make adjustments,” Becker said.
Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said the prospect of losing retail and service businesses concerned her.
“But the sunset provision is not necessarily the right way to go,” she said.
Approximately 30 people, including downtown property and business owners, members of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, members of the Los Altos Village Association and residents, attended the hearing, primarily offering their support for the zoning changes.
Not everyone was pleased with the rezoning proposal, though.
“(The rezoning) will progressively change a charming and sedate downtown and (it) will become a miniature Mountain View,” said resident Eric Koscove.
Speakers in support of the amendments registered concerns about problems that could arise from rezoning, such as inadequate parking and tall buildings standing too close to one another, resulting in alleylike streets.
Tying into the rezoning action is a “visioning process” the city has authorized to solicit resident input on their values and priorities for what they want to see downtown. A request for additional funding for the consultant hired to oversee the process is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
The process will include a series of meetings with residents throughout the year.