Off-Course Housing Site Solves Hole Problem

November/December 2000

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Off-Course Housing Site Solves Hole Problem

Courtesy Stanford Golf Course

An issue that threatened to overshadow the otherwise upbeat first few weeks of John Hennessy's Stanford presidency appeared settled in early October when the University and the city of Palo Alto found an alternate site for a housing development that would have been built on part of the Stanford Golf Course.

Stanford had proposed building about 500 apartments and townhouses for faculty--housing that even critics of the plan concede is desperately needed--in an area that included the fairway of the first hole of the golf course. According to director of government and community relations Larry Horton, '62, MA '66, a combination of covenants, restrictions and University set-asides had narrowed the available sites for a new faculty "neighborhood" to a parcel of land just east of Junipero Serra Boulevard that incorporates the first fairway. "Believe me," Horton told a gathering of University administrators in early September, "the last thing anybody wants to do is build housing on the golf course."

But, by then, the plan had teed off the Stanford golf community--drawing criticism from golf professionals Tom Watson, '71, Notah Begay, '94, Tiger Woods, '98, and others. A letter to Hennessy signed by Watson et al said, "We know that the University is now in a period of rapid development, and that student and faculty housing is needed. However, while the University has its eye on new buildings and new programs, it should not be in such a rush toward the future that it abandons or abuses precisely those assets, such as the Golf Course, which have played a significant role in the University's history and its world stature."

Athletics director Ted Leland, PhD '83, at a press conference on September 22, outlined what he called Operation Hope Not, a redesign of the first seven holes of the course that would accommodate the loss of the first fairway but "preserve championship play." Acknowledging that the redesign was no substitute for the "architectural elegance" of the original, Leland said the University had run out of options and, failing an 11th hour development, would have no choice but to capture the first hole for the housing tract.

Eight days later, Hennessy and Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss announced a possible solution--amend a 1997 agreement and allow the University to build housing on 13 acres near Searsville Road and an adjacent 25-acre lot on Campus Drive. That area was previously off-limits because of a contract that restricted use of the land--a total of 108 acres abutting Sand Hill Road--to athletic fields, academic field research and open space until 2020.

The agreement was contingent on acceptance by the Palo Alto City Council and Palo Alto Planning Commission, but University officials were optimistic both bodies would affirm it. "This would be a happy outcome for all parties," Hennessy said.

"Certainly, President Hennessy and the city are to be congratulated for coming up with a plan that works for everybody," said Richard Harris, '68, a former captain of the Stanford golf team and an outspoken opponent of the plan to build on the first fairway.

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