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Upfront In recent years, projects seeking a PC-zone designation have received an increasing amount of scrutiny from planning commissioners and local land-use watchdogs. Several recent high-profile projects with this zoning designation — a list that includes Alma Plaza and the College Terrace Centre — received approval only after heated community meetings, multiple revisions and criticism from residents who argued that the public benefits being offered are too paltry to compensate the city for the increased density. Lytton Gateway, LLC, is proposing to both exceed the city’s density regulations and its 50-foot height limit


New five-story building proposed for downtown Proposed height-limit-busting development would feature office space, retail and residences on former Shell station site


five-story building featuring offices, retail and residential units would go up on the site of a former Shell gas station in downtown Palo Alto under a proposal recently submitted to the city. The 64-foot-tall building is proposed for 355 Alma St., at Lytton Avenue. The site was occupied by the Commuter Shell Service for 42 years

by Gennady Sheyner before the gas station closed in June 2010. The new building would include four stories of office space, along with retail on the ground floor and five residential units on the fifth floor, according to city planning director Curtis Williams. The development would include both underground and at-grade parking and public open

space on Lytton. The developer, Lytton Gateway LLC, is requesting a zone change to a create planned-community (PC) zone on the site. The zoning designation allows developers to build at a greater intensity than the city’s regulations typically allow. In exchange, developers must offer the city “public benefits.�

for buildings. Williams said in an email that the applicant requested the increased intensity and height because of the building’s close proximity to the downtown Caltrain station. The Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to review the application and consider the zone change on March 16. N Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@

TALK ABOUT IT Do you think this is a good use of the planned community zoning? Share your opinions on Town Square on Palo Alto Online.


Economy, fitness fads throw gym a curve Curves franchise in Palo Alto illustrates trends in exercise, business


by Zohra Ashpari



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This Sunday: The Devil and Other Nonsense Rev. David Howell preaching An Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ

Veronica Weber

he Curves gym on Emerson Street was the first of its franchise to open in Palo Alto. Now it is the last one standing. Curves International Inc. specializes in 30-minute resistancetraining workouts for women. But in the past four years, a loss of nearly half of its U.S. franchise sites since 2007 illustrates the difficulty of maintaining a business amid changing demographics and fitness trends. Curves’ corporate communications confirmed that 4,400 branches remain, compared to 7,748 in the onset of 2007, according to a franchise-disclosure document filed with state regulators in March 2010. Two sites closed nearby: the branch on El Camino Real in Palo Alto in April 2010 and the branch on University Avenue in East Palo Alto in 2007-08, a corporate employee said. “Franchise trends come and go, and many of them have throughout the years. Franchises depend on demographics, consumer behaviors and economic trends,� said Todd Lipton, president of Fitness Acquisition Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., a specialist in the sale of health clubs and fitness centers. The success of Curves was unusual in the fact that it was simple and carried low start-up costs, Lipton said. An owner could open up a club using credit cards alone. Curves gave working and nonworking women the chance to become entrepreneurs when they otherwise couldn’t, Lipton added, noting that the demographic of women buying Curves usually consisted of those not opting for the typical co-ed club. “The allure of the Curves franchise for me was that they stood for empowering women: a no-makeup-or-hair-do-required kind of place providing a comfortable and safe environment for women to get fit,� said Susan Empey, owner of the Emerson Curves.

Linda Jensen uses a resistance machine during her 30-minute-circuit Curves workout. Jensen, who’s been a member since 2003, typically works out three times a week. One of the reasons for the Curves closures, Lipton said, is that the proliferation of franchises quickly saturated the market. Then there’s the recession. “We are seeing consumers lose purchasing power. Because they have less spendable income, they are being more frugal, willing to go with fewer services, amenities, and the market is responding,� Lip-

ton said. “There has been a dynamic shift in the market. The up-and-coming franchises and licensing companies that we see now are priced (for membership) on the lower end of the spectrum, as low as $10-19 a month,� he said, adding that the mid-market clubs charging around

INSPIRATIONS A resource for special events and ongoing religious services. To inquire about or make space reservations for Inspirations, please contact Blanca Yoc at 223-6596 or email

(continued on page 8)


Palo Alto Weekly 03.11.2011 - section 1  

Section 1 of the March 11, 2011 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto Weekly 03.11.2011 - section 1  

Section 1 of the March 11, 2011 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly