News

Tonight: Menlo Park council starts specific plan review

Planning Commission recommendations focus on fine-tuning

Judging by the flurry of emails to the city's public log, interest in tonight's Menlo Park City Council meeting is running high, thanks to one item on the agenda - a review of the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan.

The council now has a chance to evaluate modifications proposed by the Planning Commission; the suggested changes are more along the lines of fine-tuning rather than major revisions to the specific plan. The commission, during a review that stretched over five meetings, made recommendations that included:

● Allowing the city to evaluate proposed renovations within the specific plan area for compliance with criteria such as sidewalk width. Currently new projects must meet the standards, while remodels of existing structures may not, as recently demonstrated by the renovation of the Mermaid Inn at 727 El Camino Real.

● Letting construction of a pedestrian-bicycle railroad undercrossing at Middle Avenue start regardless of the status of high-speed rail construction.

"I don't want the (undercrossing) to be happening 15 years from now," Commission chair John Kadvany noted during the Nov. 4 discussion.

Funding for infrastructure was a major topic of discussion; the commission also wants the city to prioritize constructing a downtown parking garage as the funding to build it becomes available.

● Permitting some flexibility in building break, parking and setback requirements for parcels in the southeast portion of El Camino Real, which includes the Stanford lots, to allow the creation of an "optimal" public plaza at Middle Avenue. Commissioner Henry Riggs commented that a plaza design that had chairs next to a garage entrance -- i.e., a plaza compromised by vehicular traffic -- wouldn't make it past the commission's architectural review.

● Creating a transportation management association, open to entities within the plan boundaries, to coordinate and monitor traffic-reduction measures.

The specific plan has come under fire as projects started appearing under the new regulations. Stanford University and John Arrillaga proposed building an 8.43-acre mixed-use project that would replace mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real with 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

The university has agreed to make "a substantial contribution," with the exact amount yet unknown, to construction of the Middle Avenue railroad undercrossing as well as to participate in a city-led design group for the public plaza.

A second project, designed by Greenheart LLC, would create 210,000 square feet of office space and 210,000 square feet of apartments, with 16,000 square feet of retail in the commercial buildings and 7,000 square feet in the residential, on 7 acres located at 1300 El Camino Real at Oak Grove Avenue.

Save Menlo, a grassroots coalition organized to oppose the Stanford project, surfaced with its own suggestions, compiled with the support of the Sierra Club. In an email sent Nov. 18, the two groups asked that the city change the specific plan to cap office space at 25 percent of a building's floor area; limit building height to a maximum of 48 feet; and add a development impact infrastructure fee for new projects. These changes would help reduce traffic impacts and improve safety and quality of life, they said.

Early in its review, the commission had indicated through informal votes that a majority of its members were "favorably disposed" toward the density and floor area ratios -- the scale, in other words -- of buildings allowed under the specific plan. Katherine Strehl and John Onken abstained since they are recused from voting on certain zones of the specific plan.

Whatever happens, this is far from the last chance residents, developers and city officials have to weigh in on how well the specific plan is working, as noted during the Planning Commission discussions.

"We'll be reviewing this again in 14 months, so don't worry," Commissioner Katie Ferrick noted on Nov. 4.

See a summary of the Planning Commission's recommendations and staff analysis on the city's website.

Following a closed session at 6 p.m., the regular council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St. The live meeting will be shown online.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Overbuilt Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Stanford/Arrillaga's plan for the new development is 7 times the size/density of the Safeway across the street per Daily Post newspaper 11/19/13.

How do you like them apples Menlo Park citizens? Got traffic/congestion? Think the terrible traffic will get ANY better after it is done?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 1:29 pm

First, I am encouraged by and impressed with the process and the outcome of the Planning Commission review of the DSP. While I wouldn't support all of their recommendations, I certainly see merit in several; and appreciate the ones I don't support were well intended and thoughtfully crafted. The City is fortunate to have 7 dedicated andtalented people serving on that body. I am discouraged, however, by one comment credited to Katie, "we'll be reviewing this again in 14 months...." One of the primary, and in my view most important objectives of developing a DSP was to provide clear and reliable rules/direction that potential investors could rely upon when considering whether to invest resources in developing a project in Menlo Park. I was hoping the DSP would finally offer some level of stability in terms of what investors could expect and would thus attract those who now shun the city as "not worth the brain damage or the wasted design dollars" to invest here. IF it is truly intended, after this re-review due to a few not liking the first project, to keep re-re-re-reviewing the DSP every 12-143 months, this primary objective will have been totally missed. In fact, my guess would be that it would make the problem of investors going elsewhere even worse. My advice to the CC, take the time now to get it as right as you can, and then put it in place in such a way that investors can be assured that it won't be changed for at least 5 years (projects take 2-3 to plan, fund, design and build).


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