Palo Alto residents don’t have to look far to see the potential of San Antonio Road.

The strip, which separates Palo Alto from Mountain View, perfectly embodies the recent growth trends of the two cities. On the Mountain View side, San Antonio has been one of the city’s major growth areas, with the city approving a specific plan that guided the construction of hundreds of homes, offices, stores, restaurants and a cinema in the area around El Camino Real. .

In Palo Alto, there remains an eclectic but generally low-density mix of commercial and residential uses, with recent additions including two new hotels on the east end of San Antonio near Middlefield Road. The city also plans to build a transitional housing complex on a city-owned site at 1237 San Antonio Road near the Baylands.

Monday night, the Palo Alto City Council gave its strongest indication yet that it would like to see more residential growth in this area. When considering a proposed 75-condominium development at 800 San Antonio Road, council members generally agreed that the project should proceed. It made little difference that the development was larger and built at a higher density than city code generally allows.

Yorke Lee’s proposal calls for a five-story building with a height of 60 feet, exceeding the city’s height limit of 10 feet. Its residential density would be 86 dwelling units per acre, greatly exceeding the 30 units that would have been permitted under conventional zoning.

The development is the city’s latest “planned residential zoning” proposal, a designation the city introduced two years ago to encourage new housing construction. It allows builders to go beyond zoning regulations and gives city officials wide latitude to review proposals and require changes. In most cases, the developers had chosen not to proceed with their projects after receiving negative or mixed feedback from the board in non-binding pre-selection hearings. Only one project, a Smith Development proposal for a 70-unit complex at 660 University Ave., has moved forward with a formal application.

Many council members encouraged Lee on Monday to pursue the project.

“I don’t mind the height,” said board member Eric Filseth. “The city isn’t monolithic, and if we want some places in the city to be higher than others, I think that’s one of the best candidates for somewhere where it makes sense to really focus about adding some density here.”

Council member Tom DuBois was more cautious, noting that roofing equipment could add another 15 feet to the project, bringing the total height to 75 feet. He suggested the developer consider limiting the overall height to 65 feet.

DuBois also urged Lee to explore the inclusion of ground-floor retail in the project. The residential complex would displace two commercial uses: Body Kneads Day Spa and Sequoia Academy, which offers tutoring and test preparation classes.

“I know it’s probably impacting the project, but doing something to activate the street and provide services to residents would be a big plus,” DuBois said.

Even with slight reservations, DuBois said the project is “well located and represents what we are looking for in the PHZ (Planned Home Zoning) type of project.”

For city leaders, San Antonio represents a key strategy to meet the state’s mandate to plan for 6,086 new homes between 2023 and 2031. City planners estimate that parcels along San Antonio, around East Meadow Circle and other areas currently zoned for manufacturing, research and office purposes, could accommodate approximately 1,500 housing units.

Council is due to discuss the city’s new housing component, which sets out strategies to meet the housing mandate, on Aug. 22.

The neighborhood has already seen some changes. Marriott recently built two five-story hotels near Middlefield Road, and in 2020 the council approved a 102-unit development at 788 San Antonio, adjacent to the site where York proposes to build the condominiums.

Mark Donahue of Lowney Architecture, who pitched the project on Lee’s behalf, argued Monday that the proposed condominium project aligns well with the council’s vision for San Antonio.

“Given the future housing element, we’re right on the money in terms of the size of the project,” Donahue said.

The council generally agreed, with council member Alison Cormack suggesting the condominiums will create more options for young families who want to live in Palo Alto but cannot afford single-family homes. The proposed height, she says, is appropriate.

“We regularly hear from young families here saying that’s all they’ll be able to afford, so the more we have, the more opportunity these young families have to come here and stay here,” Cormack said.

By far the biggest concern was transportation. San Antonio is decidedly car-centric, with no public transit and poor biking conditions. Cormack said it’s important for the council to plan and implement cycling improvements in San Antonio as it moves forward with real estate developments. And Mayor Pat Burt, who represents the city on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, said he would like the transit agency to introduce a bus route along San Antonio, stretching from the area of Baylands at Foothill College.

He suggested that Palo Alto take the lead in defending the new line, which would run through Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills.

“It’s the only corridor that serves all four North County VTA cities and it’s one of the areas that receives the most densification for all of those cities,” Burt said.

He also suggested that the San Antonio Corridor represents an opportunity for Palo Alto and Mountain View to work together to increase residential density, improve transportation and add retail businesses.

“This retail development straddles our community and we need to work together to try to find a way to really have the services needed to support thousands of new homes between our cities in this area,” Burt said. .

John Petrilla, who lives across from the proposed site, was less optimistic about San Antonio’s housing boom. He observed that none of the people supporting the project actually live in the neighborhood. Petrilla told council he would like to see the city develop a master plan for cycling and transit infrastructure before moving forward with housing plans.

“It sounds like a big project, provided it’s not in your neighborhood,” Petrilla said. “It’s frustrating to hear that this is a place for good development.”