Council drops appeal opposing 5-story downtown project

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Rendering Courtesy of William Maston Architects & Associates
Ted and Jerry Sorensen offered this early rendering last year of their proposed mixed-use project at 40 Main St.

The Los Altos City Council voted unanimously Saturday to withdraw its appeal of a court decision allowing a 5-story project to be built downtown.

The council July 7 opted to appeal an April 27 ruling that allowed high-density development at 40 Main St. under state Senate Bill 35. The law expedites development of affordable housing projects. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams ruled Ted and Jerry Sorensen's proposal for a mixed-use, 29,566-square-foot building could proceed under SB 35. The project includes two affordable housing units.

The court ruling followed an April 23 council decision denying the project on the basis that it was not entitled to a ministerial streamlined permit. 

"Unfortunately, relying on its broad discretion under the law, the Superior Court Judge also granted the developer’s request that the city post an appeal bond in the amount of $7 million," city council members said in a statement. "The city would be required to post the bond by Sept, 17, and, more concerning, if the city lost the appeal, the city would be required to pay the full amount of the bond to the developer, plus any attorney’s fees, which is likely to exceed $10 million. The council determined that the potential cost of the litigation could severely impact the city’s ability to provide even basic municipal services. In light of this huge financial risk to the city and the uncertainty and risk of losing the appeal, the city council decided to withdraw the appeal.

"There is also no question that the requirement to post a bond in cases like this will have a chilling effect on any city’s ability to appeal lower court rulings, even if the local jurisdiction believes the court erred," the council said in a statement.

The case is a prime example of new housing laws encouraging high-density housing projects in low-density communities like Los Altos for the purpose of addressing a statewide housing crisis. 

"State laws such as SB 35 and the Housing Accountability Act should not be used as tools to strip cities of their ability to review projects to ensure they conform with its zoning and safety requirements," the council said in its Sept. 5 statement.

The next step is a scheduled Sept. 10 meeting to issue the court-mandated permit for 40 Main St., subject to some limited city requirements.

"The council is still open and willing to discuss with the developer an alternative project for the 40 Main St. site because council sincerely believes the project approved by the court is not a good fit for this site and does not comply with the city’s zoning and safety requirements," according to the council statement.

The Town Crier will provide more information on this story as it becomes available.


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