City Council approves affordable housing project

Fifty-nine families will have access to affordable housing in Palo Alto as a result of the City Council’s recent approval of the Wilton Court development. The proposed housing units on El Camino Real will be available to those earning 30 to 60 percent of Palo Alto’s median income and over 21 studio units will be reserved for adults with developmental disabilities.

The approval marks significant progress, as it has been seven years since the last affordable housing project on Maybell Avenue was considered and overturned by voters according to Palo Alto Online.

Many families will be positively impacted by the Wilton development, including Linnea Wickstrom and her son, Per Maresca, who has a developmental disability.

“The lack of affordable housing affects our family directly by reducing the chances that our developmentally disabled son will be able to live in Palo Alto near all his natural supports,” Wickstrom said. “Wilton Court may offer my son a chance to live long-term in the city in which he was born and raised, in inclusive housing — housing for a variety of people.”

Maresca, who works in Palo Alto, is 27 years old and spoke at a recent City Council meeting in support of the project.

“Wilton Court is the kind of housing that will meet (the needs of developmentally disabled people) for affordable and inclusive housing . . . right in the town we know and where our support systems are.”

Per Maresca

“Wilton Court is the kind of housing that will meet (the needs of developmentally disabled people) for affordable and inclusive housing . . . right in the town we know and where our support systems are,” Maresca said.

Though the project will impact the lives of its residents positively, those who live nearby to the proposed site say they are concerned about certain aspects of the project.

Initially, neighbors in the Ventura area had concerns regarding the building’s density, parking and traffic. These concerns were addressed by Palo Alto Housing, who adjusted the project’s plan in order to reach a compromise with concerned residents.

The number of housing units was reduced from 65 to 59, allocating more units to adults with developmental disabilities. This, in addition to public transportation passes and bike sharing provided to residents under the Transportation Demand Management Plan, reduced the number of parking spaces needed. In addition to these alterations, the City Council has now agreed to do a traffic study on the area in order to improve overall traffic-related issues in the area.

While many are satisfied with these adjustments, neighbors who live directly adjacent to the building still have concerns.

According to one Palo Alto resident who asked The Campanile not to use her name because she is employed by for a prominent company in Palo Alto, the building will encroach on her property and the new adjustments will block natural sunlight for large portions of the year.

“The new four-story building will tower over my building and therefore (block) all natural sunlight from my two-story, eight unit building, especially in the winter months,” she said. “It is absolutely unfair to those who pay a lot of money to live here, to force them to live in the dark while these new residents are living the dream, with all the amenities … everything you could ask for a fraction of the cost.”

In addition to the aforementioned concerns about her own property, this resident said the project could impact the broader community by increasing congestion, particularly on Wilton Avenue and in the alleyway behind the property.

She said a potential solution would be to place the entrance on El Camino.

“Over the last 10 years I’ve lived in Palo Alto, I have seen office building after office building being built along with multiple hotels,” the resident said. “Many of these locations have few, if any, residents living in close proximity, therefore reducing the impact this building would have had on the neighborhood. There has been and continues to be plenty of other locations more appropriate to build this ridiculously large, dense building. This is simply the wrong location.”

While the impact of the building on the neighborhood remains uncertain, the approval of Wilton Court marks a significant shift in the city’s formal efforts towards  expanding access to affordable housing.

Wickstrom said, “We are pleased at the approval and hope that this is just the beginning of bring much more Palo Alto housing for people at low and extremely low income levels — throughout the city.”

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