EPC Says “No” to Prometheus Project, but “Yes” to Higher Density

by Deb Keller

prometheus2The Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) met on February 10 for six hours and voted to amend the General Plan to allow a higher density than the current 15-25 units/acre along the Evelyn Corridor, but voted against granting the four specific Precise Plan variances requested by Prometheus Real Estate Group. The vote against the project was 4-1.

Seventy-nine residents attended the meeting, with 85% against the project and 15% in favor.
Prometheus President Jon Moss spoke on behalf of the real estate group and cited the project’s greenpoint rating of 110. He also stated that placing the 213-unit apartment complex next to transit and the downtown “would dwarf all of the cumulative effects of what we’re doing with the green-point rated program.”

Opponents to the project questioned the impact of a reduction in car use. Using the traffic study’s 9% reduction in car use due to proximity to transit, resulted in 1289 daily trips from the apartment complex. Opponents felt this would adversely affect the neighborhood.

Opponents also took issue with the study’s claim of an actual decrease in traffic after the project was built, which was based on an estimated 1717 daily trips from the Minton’s site currently, saying this level of traffic was vastly overstated.

The consultant who conducted the traffic study defended the methodology used, stating that actual traffic counts were too costly to do.

EPC Chairman John McAlister questioned the traffic consultant as to the variance in his numbers, and the consultant replied it could be as high as 20%.

McAlister also asked about studies of traffic after a project was built to gauge the accuracy of original calculations. The consultant responded that the city did not have adequate staff for measuring projects afterwards. McAlister noted that there were a number of recent developments that were experiencing difficulty with traffic and parking.

Resident Tony Morales, who is dependent on public transportation, took issue with the idea that public transportation is a viable alternative. “I have watched public transportation dwindle over the 10 years to the point of embarrassment. You can’t take public transportation…VTA buses pretty much shut down, except for the El Camino, at 7 in the evening. Public transportation is not nearly as viable a solution as it once was.”

Morales was followed by Robert Swierk, a resident and VTA planner, who spoke on behalf of the VTA. Swierk defended more limited parking, as well as the guidelines used to estimate traffic.

Resident Annette Nielsen found fault with the traffic study’s finding of no adverse affect on the neighborhood from an overflow of Caltrain parking. Nielsen took pictures of commuters getting off of the train and picking up their cars, at odds with the findings of the traffic study.

Several supporters of the project also spoke, including a member of the Sierra Club, which has endorsed the project.

Resident Aaron Grossman noted that the existing and proposed developments on both sides are already below or close to the Precise Plan minimum of 15 units/acre, and that averaging in this project would result in an overall density of 30.5 units/acre, not far above the Precise Plan’s original maximum of 25.

Resident Jim Neill took exception with the averaging argument. He gave the example of averaging in parks around Park Place (similar in density to the proposed project), which resulted in a density of 19 units/acre.

Resident Bruce Karney spoke of the necessity of providing more housing for Google employees, and the need for this kind of housing for younger professionals.

In the end, McAlister said that the area was surrounded by medium density development and that something in the 36-45 units/acre range would fit in better with the surrounding neighborhood, and asked Prometheus to employ some “creative thinking” to come up with an alternate proposal.

Commissioner Kathy Trontel said that the people in the neighborhood were already dealing with a difficult parking situation, and the EPC should “do no harm” to people in that situation.

Commissioner Lisa Matichak said that during the General Plan update process, she heard loud and clear that residents want to preserve their neighborhoods.  She felt that the proposed development was so massive that it would change the character of the existing neighborhood.

The EPC vote is advisory to City Council only, but is an important input for Council’s decision.

The decision now moves to Council on Tuesday, March 23.

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