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Controversial Palo Alto housing project set for Nov. 5 vote

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A controversial project that would provide 60 low-income housing units for seniors and 12 new single-family market-rate homes in Palo Alto will come to a head in the city’s upcoming general election on Nov. 5.

Earlier this year, the private nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which manages 20 affordable housing properties throughout the city, proposed the construction project at 567-595 Maybell Avenue.

NEW.101713.PaloAltoHousing-8Because existing zoning regulations for the property did not permit development at that density, the nonprofit petitioned the City Council to designate the site as a planned community zone.

“The existing zoning would allow us to maximize 46 senior units, but it would not be a financially feasible project for low-income senior housing,” said Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation. “The land is pretty expensive. We wouldn’t be competitive in all of our funding applications because the cost per unit would be insane.”

The city council unanimously approved the rezoning petition in June.

Dissatisfied with the rezoning decision, a group of Palo Alto residents formed a campaign committee, called Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning, to oppose the new project. The group prepared petitions for a referendum on the council’s decision to allow the rezoning.

“We needed 2,300 signatures on these petitions, and we got over 4,000,” said Joseph Hirsch, a member of the Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning leadership team.

Because the group’s petition for a referendum on the decision succeeded, the rezoning question will appear before Palo Alto voters as Measure D on the general election ballot in November.

“I think the high density rezoning of Maybell is wrong,” Hirsch said. “The traffic was not properly studied. The building is higher than it should be for the senior housing, and as much as anything else, the number of single-family homes…are just totally out of character with their surrounding single-family neighborhood. The lots are very small.”

Hirsch, a former planning commissioner, explained that the proposed single-family lots are approximately 58 percent of the typical size of single-family residential lots in Palo Alto.

“Housing that size in our neighborhood–I just find [it] inappropriate,” he said.

Gonzalez presented a different view.

“It’s not a single-family neighborhood, as the opposition [to Measure D] seems to think,” she said. “It’s single-family on one side.’

Measure D has been endorsed by Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and all seven City Council members.

“We are really fighting an uphill battle against City Hall and against Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which has pulled out all the stops,” Hirsch said.

According to Gonzalez, Palo Alto has only one site dedicated to seniors and the disabled, the 57-unit Sheridan Apartments.

“We have about 500 people on that waiting list, and it takes about five years to get off the wait list,” Gonzalez said.

If Measure D passes, construction of the housing project is scheduled to begin in spring 2014 and is expected to last for one year.

According to Palo Alto Housing Corporation Board Member Jean McCown, the corporation has applied for and received financial support from the Santa Clara County affordable housing fund, to which Stanford contributes taxes levied on its new developments on campus.

The University plays no role in allocating the affordable housing funds and has no other connection to the proposed housing project.

Contact Sam Kurland at kurlands ‘at’ stanford.edu.

A previous version of this article  incorrectly said that Jean McCown was a Stanford alumna. The Daily regrets this error.