Over the last 18 months, neighbors have vehemently opposed the construction of a 56-home project on Linfield Drive, another 33-home project on Willow Road, and the renovation of a Middlefield Road office building to medical office, but all of the projects have been approved.
Now yet another project is under way at 64 Willow Road, complete with jack hammers and rumbling dump trucks, and some neighbors say the city intentionally downplayed the size of the project.
The property, behind the Sunset magazine campus, is owned by Palo Alto developer Roxy Rapp, who applied last year for a use permit and architectural control to "partially reconstruct and expand" an existing two-story office building to accommodate high-end venture capital firms, according to a staff report. The Planning Commission granted the requests.
But neighbors say that the project is much more than a "partial reconstruction" — the building, foundation and all, has been turned to rubble, and a completely new building is going up in its place.
"We're having some major ethics problems in our city," said Don Brawner, a Linfield Oaks resident, while eating a hamburger outside the council chambers before sounding off on the project at the beginning of the City Council's Aug. 28 meeting.
Mr. Brawner and Planning Commissioner Vincent Bressler, both Linfield Oaks residents, have been leading critics of the project.
"The disconnect between the information provided in the staff report/public hearing and the actual construction is a serious matter," Mr. Bressler wrote in an e-mail to the council.
In the staff report, the project is described as follows: "The construction of the proposed project would involve removal of all the existing exterior walls while maintaining existing structural beams, columns, and pier and grade foundation."
Members of city staff said the city hasn't done anything out of the ordinary, and there was never an intention to mislead residents.
Community Development Director Arlinda Heineck acknowledged that the city allowed construction crews to "demolish a little bit more than the original plan showed," but said the project was publicized as "an extensive restoration and demolition project."
She said demolition permits had been issued to Mr. Rapp as part of the original proposal, and staff did not bypass any inspection of the project in granting the request to demolish structural beams and portions of the foundation.
"Staff is very careful with its professional ethics, and we're very careful to scrutinize projects like this," Ms. Heineck said. She said minor changes were made, but changes to a demolition plan don't usually go back to the Planning Commission for public review.
"Neighbors have tended to think of this project as just a minor addition to an existing building," she said. "Clearly neighbors didn't expect to see as much demolition as what occurred at the site."
Council members contacted by the Almanac said they were just learning the details of the project, and had no comment as of the Almanac's press deadline.
Not 'bent out of shape'
Stu Soffer, a former planning commissioner, and a Linfield Oaks resident who has been outspoken against past development plans for the neighborhood, said he isn't too worried about the project.
"I'm not bent out of shape about this, but I see why others are," he said. "After reading the staff report last year, I didn't think a total demolition was what was in the cards. ... But Roxy Rapp builds good projects, and I'm assuming the end project will be what was originally proposed."