Stanford University abruptly abandoned on Friday (Nov. 1) its contentious plan to expand its campus by 3.5 million square feet, citing ongoing disagreements with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors over the approval process.
The university’s announcement came just before the board was scheduled to hold its fourth and potentially final meeting on Stanford’s General Use Permit, a project that is often referred to as the "largest in the county’s history." If approved, the permit would have allowed Stanford to build more than 2.275 million square feet of academic space and space for 2,600 student beds between now and 2035.
The announcement came days after the university had reportedly agreed to build 2,172 units of staff housing, consistent with recommendations by county staff. Stanford’s application had initially proposed 550 units of workforce housing.
The biggest split between the county and the university came over a possible "development agreement," a negotiated contract that would have guaranteed Stanford development rights in exchange for a list of public benefits. The county on October 2018 authorized the use of a development agreement in approving Stanford’s expansion, but negotiations broke down in April and never resumed.
While Stanford has repeatedly stated that it would not accept approval of the General Use Permit without an accompanying development agreement, supervisors have been reluctant to restart negotiations, opting instead for a traditional regulatory process that analyzes the impacts of proposed developments and imposes requirements that mitigate these impacts.
In the case of Stanford’s GUP, the requirements from county planners included additional workforce housing and more stringent traffic regulations, including new requirements that the university not significantly increase average daily trips and reverse commutes to and from campus.
In its announcement, Stanford cited the county’s proposed traffic requirements and the ongoing dispute over a development agreement as the two factors that prompted the withdrawal of its application. The university argued that the traffic requirements sought by the county would not be feasible, given the additional housing mandated by the county.
Stanford has consistently argued that a development agreement is necessary so that it could have "predictability" for future growth in exchange for delivering community benefits such as housing, traffic improvements and funding for the Palo Alto Unified School District.
The university also announced that it is "committing to a new phase of engagement and dialogue with neighbors and surrounding communities."
"We have taken this step with regret, but with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges before us in achieving a successful long-term permit at this time," Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.
"Stanford remains proud to be a citizen of this region, deeply committed to contributing to its economy, health and quality of life."
Tessier-Lavigne also said that through the new engagement process, the university hopes to “gain deeper mutual understanding of the challenges facing our region, how Stanford can best enhance its contribution to addressing those challenges, and what the implications are for our longer-term campus development.”
This story will be updated.