Robertson: Saratoga’s proposed Palm Villas project misses the mark
Courtesy City of Saratoga.

    As a former Saratoga Planning Commissioner and a building design professional involved in construction for more than 35 years, I feel strongly the proposed Palm Villas project in Saratoga does not meet code and zoning requirements and does not pass the litmus test of being a well-conceived and thoughtful property development.

    Candidly, I am surprised, in a community where development is usually scrutinized, the project made it this far without significant adjustments.

    For one, current zoning allows for “professional, administrative and medical offices,” not “in-patient” medical care facilities. Because the proposed care facility is not an approved use, I believe the only way this project can be approved is for the applicant to apply for a conditional use permit. Furthermore, zoning requirements for parking are not met so the owner’s promise to provide parking attendants can only be assured with a conditional use permit.

    Second, I have major concerns about public safety. This project proposes to operate as a single facility, squeezing 78 beds into two undersized buildings on two separate lots bisected by a public road.

    Being divided means staff crossing the street day and night to move residents and provide care, medical supplies, laundry, food, housekeeping and even moving patients across this street, given patient pickup and drop off is only provided at one building.

    The plans claim the properties are adjacent even though a public street separates the two. Interestingly, the “adjacent” language in the ordinance was changed only after concerns were raised during the Environmental Impact Report scoping meeting, presumably to give planning staff free reign to permit this project.

    Third, the project does not address the impact of noise and traffic on the neighborhood off Cox Avenue, a two-lane residential road. The proposed dementia/alzheimer’s care facility would certainly bring sirens from emergency vehicles responding to health emergencies and the back-up beeping of delivery trucks, encroaching day-and-night on our residential neighborhood. Furthermore, the additional vehicles will exacerbate traffic congestion.

    Fourth, the project does not adequately address riparian setbacks and environmental impacts to the creek or provide space for a future trail as designated in the city’s General Plan. The creek provides an important habitat and migration corridor for wildlife, but unfortunately, proposed setbacks seem insufficient and inconsistent with current California requirements.

    And, while I personally don’t love the idea of a trail along the creek behind my home, for the wellbeing of our community we must support planning for open space and thoughtful development for upcoming generations.

    Lastly, I’m extremely concerned the approval of this project sets a dangerous precedent in Saratoga. In addition to my thoughts about Palm Villas, I am concerned about the way the project moved through the planning process with little visibility/transparency.

    Planning commissioners were not even notified of the first public EIR scoping study session in 2019. Then, in the Planning Commission study session, planning commissioners were advised there was no opposition to the project when I know for a fact that I and several others provided letters to planning staff.

    As longtime residents, my wife and I have a vested interest in our community. While I strongly support efforts to develop senior care and believe Saratoga must do its part to support our seniors, this is the wrong project and the wrong site.

    Any proposed development needs to meet the requirements of the Saratoga zoning ordinance and building code through thoughtful design in tune with surrounding property uses and neighborhood values. Until Palm Villas addresses these concerns, I urge everyone to tell the Planning Commission and if necessary, the City Council, no on Palm Villas.

    Doug Robertson is a former Saratoga planning commissioner.

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