A majority of Los Altos City Council members took a pass on giving early conceptual approval to a three-story building at a prominent "gateway" to downtown, saying they were wary of committing to any plans at the early stage of the development process.
On Tuesday night, developer Jeffrey Morris asked the council to approve the idea of building three stories where only two stories are allowed. In exchange, Morris proposed providing a “public benefit” of widened sidewalks around two buildings, creating public space along First Street and down a mid-block passageway between the two to create a sort of plaza.
Some council members said they were worried they were committing themselves to the plans too early in the design approval process.
“I think this should move forward quickly, but I’m really not prepared to make a decision with so little information,” Packard said.
“We should trust in the public process, and what is being requested in some way short-circuits that process.”
In essence, Morris wanted assurances that he could invest in planning a three-story building at the start of the design process, instead of being disapproved later on down the line and having to start over again.
James Walgren, assistant city manager and director of planning, assured the council that they were not committing themselves to specific details before Morris goes through the usual city channels of staff review, the Architecture and Site Review Committee and Planning Commission.
This is the second proposal in two months related to First and Main that the council has declined to act upon. On the council rejected a proposal by a third-party developer to build a shared underground parking garage with Morris, Safeway and the city. Safeway was not interested in the adapting its plans at that point in its project.
Councilwoman Megan Satterlee joined Packard in expressing concerns about approving Morris’ request.
The two, joined by Jarrett Fishpaw and Val Carpenter, voted to table the matter, wishing Morris well as he goes through the usual approval process. David Casas was the lone “no” vote.
Fishpaw said he was concerned that the council would be “piecemealing” the project, by approving the proposal now, instead of as a whole after having gone through the entire city review process. He said he had doubts about the widened sidewalks and passageway creating a public benefit. He also suggested that a shared driveway between the Morris project and Safeway would be more of a public benefit.
The plan currently calls for a driveway entrance into the project, right next to a driveway entrance for Safeway.
Packard mentioned the driveway in his list of things he did not like about the project. Speakers from the audience said that both pedestrians and vehicles could be at risk trying to navigate with other vehicles entering and exiting the Safeway driveway. One speaker worried that the two driveways would confuse drivers, and as he said, “confused drivers cause accidents.”
Safeway, however, had recently submitted plans that would push deliveries from large trucks to the opposite side of the store, Walgren said. In doing so, a separate driveway up to a ramp for customer rooftop parking was needed. The configuration made sharing a driveway with the Morris buildings difficult.
Several speakers had urged the council to table the matter, citing various reasons, such as the driveway, not enough parking for downtown, not enough public space in the project, or the building not being a grand enough entrance to downtown. A previous plan included a plaza in back of the buildings, not in view of the general public.
However, Marti Kambe of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce said both the chamber and the Los Altos Village Association were in support of Morris’ proposal, and she urged the council to help move the project forward quickly.