Let’s skip this for now: Parking, circulation problems send auto center expansion plan back to

Photo By: courtesy of City of Los Altos
Photo Courtesy Of City Of Los Altos

A plan to expand Skip’s Tire and Auto Center will return for review after the Planning and Transportation Commission identified parking and vehicle circulation concerns Jan. 17.

A proposal to remodel and expand Skip’s Tire and Auto Center didn’t meet the Planning and Transportation Commission’s (PTC) approval Jan. 17. But the commission wasn’t ready to punt on the project altogether.

The PTC voted 5-1 to continue its review of the project to a later date, allowing the property owners – the Lightfoot family – additional time to work out problems and offer alternative options related to onsite employee parking and vehicle circulation.

Co-owner Heather Lightfoot told the Town Crier she appreciated the commission’s input to help iron out any wrinkles with the project.

“We want this to be a benefit to the city, to us and, of course, to our customers,” she said. “It was good to hear some of the suggestions on how to improve it.”

The project calls for the auto center, located at 317 First St., to expand by approximately 932 square feet, adding two service bays in the process. The original structure, built in the early 1960s, currently has five service bays in use.

However, onsite parking – or lack thereof – proved to be a sticking point for some commissioners.

According to a city staff report – which recommended denial of the project – the expansion of the narrow 7,100-square-foot site would leave the business with two onsite parking spaces to accommodate up to nine employees, short of the city’s municipal code (14.74.110) requirement of one space per three employees. The site currently has four parking spaces.

The report added that the site’s actual employee parking demand was between six and nine spaces, because most, if not all, of the auto center’s employees could be working onsite at the same time.

The project’s architect, Jeff King, told the commission that the Lightfoot family made several overtures to nearby businesses to develop an offsite parking agreement for auto center employees, to no avail.

“Unfortunately, most of the ones that were interested were probably under-parked themselves,” he said.

Still, Commissioner Ronit Bodner said she wasn’t prepared “to prescribe” that the site needed more parking, noting what she called “a lack of clarity and consistency” in the way the city addresses parking issues on a case-by-case basis.

“I don’t feel comfortable making it so much more difficult for them. … It just doesn’t seem fair for us to be setting the bar so high for them,” she said, noting that the business met the city’s minimum parking requirement for six employees.

PTC Chairwoman Phoebe Bressack, however, suggested that the project should provide three or four spaces to show the city council prior to any final approval that the project is at least “equally conforming” to the current site.

Onsite vehicle circulation for Skip’s proved to be an issue as well. By expanding the site with two additional service bays, vehicle access would be cut off to a rear alleyway, making onsite maneuvering more challenging and leaving just one exit and entry point onto First Street, some commissioners noted.

“If there are two or three people coming in (to the auto center) at the same time, I see that as somewhat of a traffic concern,” Commissioner Malika Junaid said.

With this in mind, Bressack suggested – among other ideas offered by PTC members – that one of the two new service bays serve as a “flex space” with drive-through vehicle access to the alley to relieve onsite congestion when needed.

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