Condo project could test City Council’s appetite for housing on San Antonio | News

A commercial site on San Antonio Road would be transformed into a residential community with 75 condominiums under a proposal that the Palo Alto City Council is set to review on Aug. 15.

The plan is being proposed by Yorke Lee of TS800 SA LLC, a Saratoga-based limited liability corporation. If approved, the project at 800 San Antonio Road, near Leghorn Street, would be located next to the site of another residential community that the council had recently approved: a 102-apartment building at 788 San Antonio Road that received the green light in November 2020.

Both projects are testing the council’s recent commitment to bringing more housing to San Antonio and nearby roads that have traditionally been dominated by commercial and industrial uses. The conversion of industrial and manufacturing zones on the southern edge of the city into residential communities is one of the key strategies that the council is pursuing as part of its plan to meet a state mandate for 6,086 new housing units between 2023 and 2031.

Unlike the previous San Antonio project, the new condominium proposal is banking on the “planned housing zone,” which allows residential developers and the city to negotiate over development standards such as height, density and parking. And unlike other recent condominium proposals such as 2850 W. Bayshore Road and 200 Portage Ave., this one is not subject to state streamlining rules. Because this is a “planned zoning” project that does not meet existing standards, the council will have full discretion to request modifications or deny the project when it holds its preliminary review on Aug. 15.

If the council gives the proposal a favorable review, the applicant will have the option of filing a formal application, which would then be vetted by the planning staff of the Planning and Transportation Commission before returning to the council for formal approval.

If approved, the condominium project would take over a 0.87-acre site that currently includes the Body Kneads Day Spa and Sequoia Academy, which provides tutoring and preparatory courses to students. With a height of 60 feet, the five-story building would exceed the city’s typical 50-foot height limit. It would have to designate at least 15 units as affordable housing, although the application did not specify the level of affordability at which these units would be offered.

The project would also deviate from other zoning standards, including density and lot coverage. The developer is requesting a floor area ratio of 2.99, while the city code typically allows a floor area ratio of 0.6 for exclusively residential projects, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. It is seeking 68% lot coverage where 50% is normally allowed. And its density of 75 dwellings at a 0.87-acre site far exceeds what would typically be allowed in a multifamily residential zone, which would be 26 units in an RM-30 zone.

The project is one of several recent proposals to rely on the “planned housing zone,” which the council introduced in 2020 but which to date has not led to any approved developments. In recent months, developers have proposed using the zoning designations to build housing projects at current sites of Country Inn Motel at 4345 El Camino Real; at Creekside Inn at 3400 El Camino Real; and at 70 Encina Ave., near Town & Country Village. None of these projects have been reviewed by the council to date.

A report from the planning staff suggests that the council’s feedback on the San Antonio proposal could influence other developers. It notes that pre-screening reviews are intended to solicit early feedback and that no formal actions would be taken.

“That said, there is interest among other home builders and property owners to learn of the Council’s initial reaction to the subject request, which may influence the filing of future prescreening requests,” the report states.

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