On Thursday night, the Los Altos Planning Commission * approved the Morris Project at 400 Main (First and Main) with some conditions. There were no changes to the building envelope – the heights, square footage, site plan or parking. Rather the changes the PTC asked for were cosmetic or embellishments. These included that the tower element materials be refined to make the towers more prominent as markers of town entry and that a fountain and a stairwell wall become opportunities for public art. The plan will now go to City Council for a final nod.
*The Los Altos Planning Commission was recently reformed as the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC).
Voices Pro and Con
The Chamber of Commerce, Los Altos Village Association, and several others spoke for approval. However, there were still a number of voices – Bill Matson, Kent Nelson – who felt the community had missed an opportunity to obtain an extra floor of underground parking, by not granting the developer a third story.
who felt the community had missed an opportunity to obtain an extra floor of underground parking, by not granting the developer a third story
A plan of the project from last winter was a 3-story plan. Ron Packard states the he believe Kim Cranston’s April filing of a lawsuit about the how the City struck a deal with Morris, outside a RFP process, spooked Mr. Morris, making him pull back to a 100% code-compliant 2-story plan. Unlike many recently approved developments downtown, Mr. Morris ask for no developer incentives, no exceptions, of any kind.
Other people allege Ron Packard, in an attempt to derail a Sorensen plan for a project next door to his Packard law offices at 4 Main Street, started a couple of anti-growth initiatives, and that is what spooked Mr. Morris. Mr. Packard along with Val Carpenter initiated 1) a zoning refinement to absolutely prevent 3-stories on State and Main and 2) a zoning change to prevent banks and other service businesses from remaining downtown after a several years period of “amortization. The anti-bank initiative was halted by community pushback. The other zoning change effort –- which proponents say is designed to promote sloped, not flat roofs — is still in progress, but has been watered down by community pushback.
As public speaker Maddy McBirney, a new member of the Public Arts Commission, made the suggestion that elements of the building – like benches, the fountain, exterior walls — could become public art rather than standard mass-produced objects. The PTC embraced her suggestions.
elements of the building – like benches, the fountain, exterior walls, could become public art
Commissioner Jim Chiang is the Los Altos Politico Transparency Hero of the month. He championed the idea the at least some of the new 3-d Photosimulations –which are now required from the Morris Project before it goes to council — be posted on the City web site.
Some PTC commissioners explored whether Mr. Morris should come back to the PTC one more time – with the embellishments to the plan in place – before the PTC sends it up to City Council. Asst. City Manager Walgren and City Attorney Houston pointed out that all the changes were cosmetic and not structural, so it was not necessary. This persuaded all commissioners to move forward with sending the project approval directly up to the City Council.
Jim Chiang made the motion to Approve the Use permit and Design Application with conditions as written by staff ( see attachment) but also as amended as following by the PTC
- In condition No. 13, the master sign plan also comes back to the PTC for approval.
- The plaza fountain be removed from the sign program. The fountain and the stairwell on the Safeway side be an opportunity for public art and go to the Public Art Commission for Approval.
- Applicant to work with staff to refine the hip roof towers (changing Staff’s condition 10a which requests a slant roof) to make them significant as signposts for the building as a entry to town
- The applicant should use color and materials to break down scale at the rear of the building, and potentially also in front.
- Add additional bike racks and public seating in an appropriate way and be approved by BPAC.
- Prepare accurate 3-d renderings showing the building in relationship to its surrounding buildings before the plan goes to the council.
Jon Baer seconded it.
After the unanimous vote, Mr. Morris, his architect, and his real estate broker – Ron Labetich – were all visibly relieved.
What’s next is that the developer will make what changes he can and take the plan to City Council. If the City approves, perhaps with it own conditions, the plan goes to BPAC and to the Public Art Committee before permits are finally issued. It’s an attractive project and will be an asset to the city.