Upcoming Los Altos Planning Commission – New zoning on Packard’s block

Written by lalahpolitico

Ron Packard law office building has a slant roof - flat roof combo - pretty?

On Thursday June 21, the Los Altos Planning Commission will consider approving or modifying the new downtown zoning language. City Staff has developed changes to the code that ensure that nothing greater than a two-story building can be built on the Main and State Street loop. During the City Council meeting last month, members Ron Packard and Val Carpenter introduced the zoning rollback, stating that it was to apply to the CRS zone only. But at the last moment, Megan Satterlee requested staff to apply the same rules to the CRS/OAD where Packard owns property.

You can see a 5 minute video of the May 8 City Council action below. To hear Megan Satterlee’s last minute request, go to the last 30 seconds of the flick. [ A 26 minute version of the May 8 meeting segment on zoning is here on  vimeo. ]

LALAHPOLITICO: There will be a reduction in use of developer incentives because future deviations from code must go through the variance process, where the developer is not allowed to offer a public benefit in exchange for the exception granted.  He gets the exception for free.  Also, architectural flexibility and innovation are likely to suffer. The code says the goal is to stimulate slant roof designs instead of flat roofs.   Actually what is likely is NO NEW ROOFS, as there will be little new building activity.

Many Los Altos residents contacted by LaLahPolitico have said the zoning rollback will all but stop meaningful changes towards greater vibrancy downtown.  It will end hopes for the rebuilding of the old 1-stories that predominate downtown.

Others see it as motivated by the desire of Mr. Packard to stop the redevelopment of the Sorensen parcel next door to the Packard office building. Sorensen has been trying to get approval for a three story plan for almost four years.

The final Sorensen plan for the parcel at 40 Main was similar in height variances and parking shortage variances to the Enchante Hotel Plan at 1 Main Street, a plan approved about one year ago. The hotel has not yet broken ground. The new downtown zoning language does not apply to project plans that are already approved or in the planning review process. [The grapevine says The Enchante Hotel project recently lined up some unorthodox financing for the 35 foot tall mansard roof hotel.]

Packard Building Before and After the Killed Sorensen Project

At the last city council meeting on June 18, the Council (with Packard recusing himself) overturned the Planning Commission’s very stringent conditional approval of the Sorensen project, and  it TERMINATED the planning process of the project. Assistant City Manager Walgren had told Council that an application process over 24 months long would normally time out. He said that the Sorensens should reapply and pay new application filing fees. The Council agreed, and so voted.

Are you following all that? After this zoning language goes through the “DEMOCRATIC  PROCESS” – in plain sight of all us – it will mean that in practice there can be no 30 foot plus “incentives”  3-story built next door to the Packard office building. [Certainly not one with retail on the ground floor; nor a 3 story Class A office building – Class A has a minimum interior ceiling height of 9.5 feet].  There is zero probability that someone will build a new 30 foot, slant-roofed, 2 -story; there is not an economic return on a 2-story on those parcels.  Packard will have the tallest building on the block for some time to come. The view corridor of his tenants will be preserved for some time to come.

Our guess is that the Sorensens and their investors will soon be in the mood to sell. We wonder who will buy it, knowing that the influential neighbor next to the parcel wants it to stay “pretty much the way it is now.”  A one-story? What kind of side deals will it take to make such a purchase profitable to the new buyer?

New Planning Commission to Get Special Training

Ron Packard and Val Carpenter together drove the recent PROCESS of the merging the Planning and Traffic Commissions. Having a single commission of 7 members to keep in line is much easier than keeping 14+ people in line. And now Ron and Val have driven the final selection process of the 7 commissioners – chosen for their reasonableness and expertise we’re sure. The key is that the new TRAINING these individuals will receive is to uphold the law. Before this zoning change, economic development was a city goal. Now the goal is adhering to the 1992 downtown plan and zoning law. Notice the difference?


The new language is show below.  It is also available as a .pdf here.

Page 1 of Staff Draft Language


Page two Staff Draft Language

Draft Zoning Language

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.

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