Zoning official gives office project thumbs down
Zoning administrator Peter Gilli recommends that City Council members vote against a four-story office project that would overshadow neighboring gourmet restaurant Chez TJ and require demolition of a historic home.
"If it didn't have a neighbor like Chez TJ this might be different," Gilli said in a hearing on Wednesday, June 13. He gave Los Altos-based developer Roger Burnell some credit for architectural changes, but said "It is still a four-story wall next to Chez TJ."
Gilli also weighed Burnell's proposed demolition of the vacant 1870s Pearson house on the site at 902 Villa Street at Bryant Street.
A "significant effort" was made by Burnell to relocate the house onto private property or onto city land to be part of a history museum, but "it is still a historic building on our register," Gilli said. "You shouldn't assume that because the porch is falling apart that the historic building is as bad. The porch didn't have same quality as the original construction."
Burnell gave a presentation about the project in which he explained that the 21,750-square-foot building meets city guidelines for the site, even at 61 feet in height and set back only 5 feet from the Chez TJ property line. To make up for a lack of parking on site he and another downtown developer would pay $4 million in fees to help build a new city parking garage nearby. He added that there would be a historic display on the building about the Pearson House and the history of Silicon Valley. And he showed pictures of similar buildings nearby to make the case that his building was "pretty normal" for the area.
There were also several supporters of Burnell, including one woman who said he had "worked his heart out" on the project and another who said Burnell "proposed a lot of options to save the (Pearson House) building. All of these proposals have been put down. It's not a perfect world."
"A giant office building doesn't add culture to the city, maintaining a high class restaurant does," said Stephanie, a neighbor in the condos at 108 Bryant Street, referring to Chez TJ. "It would block out all of the light into our building. And having a garage as a first floor does not add anything to our street."
Gilli recommended that the project have an underground garage, which would also reduce the building to three stories. "I understand it's extremely costly, but other sites are finding ways to do that," Gilli said. He added that a recent parking study found the area to be lacking in parking more than other areas of downtown. That made it hard to justify fewer parking space than normally required on the site, even though the City Council had initially agreed to the exception, Gilli said.
The building also lacks environmentally friendly features and would be rated LEED silver, the city's minimum requirement for new office buildings, Gilli said.
"Most projects that are coming through the process are LEED gold," Gilli said. "I'd say this is doing the minimum in terms of sustainability."
The City Council will vote on the project and possibly approve a draft environmental impact report at its July 10 meeting.