Portola Valley faces quandary over potential affordable housing sites


An ad hoc committee formed to evaluate Portola Valley properties that could be used for building affordable housing has passed along its findings to the Town Council, according to the vice chairman of the committee.

The committee had previously narrowed down the choices to four sites out of more than 30 the town owns, but it has found that all four sites have drawbacks that inhibit development of a significant number of units or would inspire community opposition, according to committee Vice Chairman Steve Toben.

In spite of the quandary over identifying a location, the need to face the housing supply crisis isn't going away, Toben said.

Portola Valley will need to meet state affordable housing mandates as well as answer the need to build housing that teachers and firefighters can afford or risk losing them to other cities and towns where they can find places to live, he said.

"(The new state rules) are going to put enormous pressure on towns to respond," Toben said.

At the top of the list of town-owned locations is a small plot at the Town Center, he said.

"There was pretty strong agreement on the committee that a few units of housing could be constructed at the south end of the Town Center," Toben said. "The recommendation was to proceed immediately for the rapid development of the units."

Committee member and architect Carter Warr presented a design to the committee that called for eight units on a section of the site next to a soccer field, but later reduced it to two structures with six units, Toben said.

"There is no pending proposal, it's only a concept," Toben said. "There are a lot of steps that need to be taken."

The town has also been met with significant opposition to development of the second-ranked property -- known as the Alpine Road site, on Alpine Road west of the intersection with Portola Road -- because it is adjacent to the Frog Pond, a vernal pool that is much loved by many residents because of its scenic beauty.

Portola Valley would only move ahead with that site in tandem with the Portola Valley school district (for teacher housing) and with a commitment that building there would not do any damage to the Frog Pond, Toben said.

The third-ranked site is in the Blue Oaks neighborhood at the south end of town, but that site is currently deeded as dedicated open space, and neighbors have complained that building there would create evacuation problems in the event of a wildfire or other emergency, Toben said.

Others have pointed to lack of public transportation, distance from schools and libraries, environmental concerns and wildfire vulnerability as additional drawbacks.

The portion of the 13-acre site that could be developed is slightly more than 3 acres.

"Lots of residents spoke to that concern, loss of open space, other challenges with respect to that site, but the need for housing is so acute that we haven't ruled it out," Toben said. "We don't know how many units could be built there. It's a fairly large area, with constraints we would have to work through with the Blue Oaks Homeowners' Association."

The committee ruled out a fourth site, Ford Field on Alpine Road, for housing because it is hemmed in by setbacks from the road and the adjacent creek.

"All other town-owned sites are not appropriate for housing," Toben said.

The committee is passing along a prioritized list of possibilities to the Town Council, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each site, he said.

"It will be up to the council to make a decision, balancing the interests of the entire community," he said.

The Town Council is expected to discuss the committee's findings at its Dec. 11 meeting.


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1 person likes this
Posted by editoratlarge
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2019 at 5:44 pm

editoratlarge is a registered user.

If San Carlos can put housing alongside train track and abutting el camino real, pretty sure portola valley with its wealth of open space can figure this out. It’s all about priorities.

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