Portola Valley: Roadside remnant of land has affordable-housing potential | February 27, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - February 27, 2019

Portola Valley: Roadside remnant of land has affordable-housing potential

Apartments at Portola Valley Town Center also a possibility, drawings show

by Dave Boyce

In Portola Valley, aside from in-home cottage units, there are likely just two locations in town in which different households share walls and roofs: The Sequoias retirement community at 501 Portola Road, and faculty and student housing at the Woodside Priory School at 302 Portola Road.

The Town Council twice tried to make room in town for condominiums — near the intersection of Alpine and Portola roads in 2003, and at a former plant nursery at 900 Portola Road in 2012 — but both initiatives were thwarted by residents who complained loudly and insistently about the negative impact of condos on the valuations of their single-family homes.

The council may try again. Council members on Feb. 13 informally examined a set of conceptual drawings, prepared by the Portola Valley firm CJW Architecture, that showed the possibilities for multi-family dwellings at two sites owned by the town:

• At a 1.3-acre crescent-shaped parcel along the south side of Alpine Road near the Frog Pond Open Space and Corte Madera School. The drawings depict 11 homes: five single-story, two- and three-bedroom duplexes, and one free-standing unit, each consisting of a 1,200-square-foot living area with clerestory windows, and a 200-square-foot carport.

• At the maintenance building at Town Center at 765 Portola Road. The drawing shows two apartments — a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom — added as a second story to the building.

A presentation that included the drawings was on the agenda for the Feb. 7 meeting of an ad hoc committee commissioned by the council in January 2017 to consider the possibilities for affordable housing on town-owned parcels.

At the Feb. 13 council meeting, Town Manager Jeremy Dennis handed out copies of the drawings to council members as part of his periodic report on affordable housing.

Dennis commented on the drawings. "I think it's worth noting that the exercise that Carter — ad hoc committee member Carter Warr of CJW Architecture — did on behalf of the committee isn't intended to promote a particular project or a particular design or a particular number of units," he said. "It's simply to illustrate what the site could potentially be capable of. There is no project at this time."

"It's very interesting to see what might be possible on that site," Councilman Craig Hughes said. "Even if it ends up being something very different than the sketch. ... Wow, it could be something as potentially impactful as that. A lot of details to work on."

"And significant conversations" to be had in the community, Dennis added.

A long-term effort

Of the 30 town-owned parcels the ad hoc committee examined, most were designated open space or unsuitable due to geologic conditions, according to a committee report of October 2017. While four had potential — the two shown in the conceptual drawings along with a parcel near Ford (baseball) Field and a remnant in the Blue Oaks neighborhood — they were not "obvious candidates" for affordable housing, the report said.

The two council members on the committee — Maryann Derwin and Mayor Ann Wengert — said at the time the report was submitted that they were in favor of looking into that potential.

"I don't want to stop tonight with just accepting the report, saying, 'This was great. Let's move on,'" Derwin said. "I would like to see some forward action coming out of this action tonight, whether it's tasking this group with another mission and/or looking at the four properties to consider moving forward on them."

There's an audience in town for more on this issue, driven in part by families who want their children living nearby, Councilman John Richards said back then. Derwin noted that a town attorney and a school principal left town due to cost-of-living and commuting woes.

The conceptual drawings just released are the most recent steps in the effort to provide affordable housing that is "consistent with the Town's open space ethos in size, scale and design," Wengert said in an email.

The initiative includes second units on residential properties and apartments on commercial and institutional properties such as The Sequoias retirement community and the Priory school, she said.

"The drawings," she added, "are solely intended to visually represent site possibilities, and do not represent a proposal or a project. They simply represent what current zoning may allow, and require significant further analysis. There is no proposed project or associated review timetable."

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