A developer has asked the city of Palo Alto for a zone change that would enable construction of a 20-condominium development next to the Town & Country Village shopping center.
The request, filed on May 23 by Edward Storm of Stormland LLC, relies on the city’s recently created “planned housing zone,” which allows residential developers to negotiate with the city over development standards. In this case, the project in the commercial zone would require exemptions to allow for greater height and density.
If approved, the project would be located at 70 Encina Ave., a site just north of Town & Country and just south of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation that is currently a parking lot. Under the existing commercial zoning, the site would only be allowed to have a floor area ratio of 0.6, which would limit the development to four units, Jeff Galbraith, principal at Hayes Group Architects, wrote to the city.
“This limited development potential severely hinders the number of housing units that can be built,” Galbraith wrote. “Coupled with the high price of land it also further challenges the inclusion of affordable housing.”
The developer is requesting that the city quadruple the allowed density to 2.4. The project would also exceed the city’s 50-foot height limit, according to the architectural plans, with the parapet raising its height to 55 feet. The council would have to sign off on that exemption for the development to advance.
According to Galbraith’s letter, the project would include 12 one-bedroom condominiums with an average size of 1,035 square feet and an average price of $1.29 million. The remaining eight units would be two-bedroom condominiums with an average size of 1,320 square feet and priced at $1.65 million.
Galbraith further states that four of the residences “will be sold or rented” as below-market-rate units, in keeping with the city’s requirement that new developments include low-income housing.
Because of the site’s commercial zoning, the council will have broad discretion over the project. Other recent residential projects such as The Sobrato Organization’s proposed 74-townhome development at the site of the former Fry’s Electronics building and SummerHill Homes’ 48-condominium complex at 2850 W. Bayshore Road are relying on state laws such as Senate Bill 330 to ensure swift approval and minimal modifications by the city to the initial proposal. But because Stormland is relying on “planned home zoning,” the project at Encina will have to go through a pre-screening hearing, giving the council an opportunity to alter or deny the project.
Galbraith wrote in the letter that the proposed design is “supported with the surroundings as there are adjacent planned community and hospital buildings of similar height.” The proposed development would be about a block away from the LifeMoves’ Opportunity Services Center, which provides transitional housing and services for unhoused individuals. The LifeMoves building at 33 Encina Ave. also exceeds the city’s height limit.
Stormland is one of just a handful of developers that have opted to rely on the “planned home zoning” process since the council established it in 2020 to encourage more housing. While numerous applicants had gone through the pre-screening process for their projects, most ultimately refrained from advancing their proposals. The only exception is Smith Development, which last December filed a formal application for a mixed-use complex at 660 University Ave.
Smith had recently revised the plans for the four-story project, which now consists of office space on the ground floor at 65 residential units on the three upper floors. The application is currently being reviewed by the city’s Department of Planning and Development Services.