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Menlo Park: Greenheart's mixed-use complex draws kudos, questions

During their discussion Monday night of the environmental impact report and architectural features of Greenheart's proposed 420,000-square-foot mixed-use project on El Camino Real, several Menlo Park planning commissioners said they thought the project demonstrated that the city's controversial specific plan is working the way the community wants it to.

Greenheart's project includes two three-story office buildings with 210,000 square feet of commercial space, and up to 220 apartments, with some below-market-rate housing, on its nearly 7-acre site at 1300 El Camino Real, off Oak Grove Avenue.

The commercial space would include at least 188,000 square feet of offices and 22,000 square feet set aside for commercial use, preferably retail, but that depends on the market, according to the developer. One option would be more offices. The residential building would dedicate 7,000 square feet to retail.

Ninety-five percent of the on-site parking would be provided by an underground garage with entrances off El Camino Real and Garwood Way.

The underground parking arose as a point of discussion during the Planning Commission meeting on Monday night (Aug. 4). An initiative to change the specific plan is going before voters in the Nov. 4 election. If adopted, the initiative would cut the amount of office space allowed in the Greenheart development to 100,000 square feet, about half of the current plan.

The commissioners asked how that would affect the garage as well as transportation demand management for the project.

Greenheart representative Steve Pierce replied that the parking would likely have to shift to above-ground, given the expense of building a garage would not be offset by the remaining office space, which brings in the highest rent. He estimated that it costs more than twice as much to put the parking underground.

That leaves less open space for a two-acre public plaza in the complex, he said, and leads to fewer potential on-site patrons for the retail. "We wouldn't be tweaking the project. We'd be reinventing the project," Mr. Pierce said, if the initiative passes. The company may then look at larger, regional-type retail or look at building more, larger housing units, both of which change impacts to traffic and schools, he said. As for encouraging public transit, he said, "People don't take trains to retail."

Commissioner Drew Combs, who is running for a seat on the City Council this year, asked whether sticking to the base level of development instead of going for the bonus level would make losing half the office space feasible.

"Probably not," Mr. Pierce said, adding that without the bonus level, Greenheart would likely move the parking to the surface.

Commissioner Katie Ferrick said she thought the project demonstrated that the specific plan "got it right" in terms of bonus levels and public benefit, as the revenue generated for Greenheart by developing at the bonus level allows construction of the underground garage, which in turn leads to the large public plaza.

According to the city staff, a third-party consultant will analyze various mixed-use scenarios to estimate the value to both the developer and Menlo Park. This analysis will be used in negotiating the public benefits to be derived from allowing the bonus level. Commissioner John Kadvany encouraged the city to consider negotiating for revenue from the developer as the public benefit in light of the possibility that the commercial portion of the site could include less retail.

Commission Chair Ben Eiref pressed Greenheart to not make that portion flex space. "(The amount of) retail should not be variable ... my perception is that the market for retail is on fire right now."

The commission, while praising the site plan and architecture, emphasized that the project is going to have to sell itself to the public.

"We kind of have to pat the specific plan on the back and say job well done," Commissioner John Onken said, but noted that the "lump of office," while necessary, will be disagreeable to some members of the public.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Progree
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm

This is a great project. Let's improve our El Camino corridor and get rid of the blight. The Initiative will kill this project.

VOTE NO ON THE INITIATIVE.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SteveN
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Aug 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I was surprised to see that the issue of traffic was not addressed. This complex will be located right at one of the gridlock points of El Camino. Having been a long time resident of Menlo Park, this is one of the most frustrating parts of being here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by transient
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm

How will this project impact the small town ethos that makes Menlo Park so appealing to renters?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

This is the project that was rejected by this same initiative group in 2006. 108 homes and 25,000 feet of commercial was too big and too scary for Menlo Park.

"The applicant, O'Brien at Derry Lane, LLC, proposed to construct a mixed-use development consisting of 108 for-sale housing units and 24,925 square feet of commercial space. The project area comprised 3.45 gross acres on the north side of Oak Grove Avenue between the Caltrain tracks and the commercial properties fronting El Camino Real. The property is currently used for a variety of small retail and service activities, which would have been demolished, and for automobile storage, which would have been eliminated."

Not one of the Derry opponents ever considered a unified plan for the area because it would make opposing projects much harder. You see, they don't want any projects. And this is proof.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Although the project is quite big, I like the mixed-use composition and the underground parking aspects. This makes it much more pedestrian-friendly and presents a welcoming face to the street.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oak Grover
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm

As a resident of Oak Grove Avenue east of El Camino Real, this is going to be a nightmare. The traffic noise is already pretty bad that up until 9o'clock at night so that you have to close your windows to hear someone on the telephone.

The plaza will just become another hang out for the homeless who cluster in the train station waiting room already. One statement I do agree with is that people do not take a train to retail. Nobody who has a job has the time to wait on public transportation to do their shopping and such. The whole outcome of these specific plans and stuff appears to be to reduce the standard of living for anyone who might be considered remotely middle class, at least for Menlo Park, for the sake of rich old money developers paying decades old property tax and who own the city government.

I like the small town feel of Menlo Park. That is why I stayed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm

If would really be nice if those who write comments here, would get their facts correct.

"interesting" just posted a comment which is full of errors.

1. The original project as proposed by the O'Brien group and the changes as agreed in a development agreement with Menlo Park Tomorrow are as follows:

---------

Menlo Park, CA: (Jun-11-07) Menlo Park Tomorrow, a private citizens group, filed charges against O'Brien Homes, a city developer, over the construction of the Derry Lane project. In 2006, the city council approved the four-story Derry Lane project with 135 condos and roughly 21,000 square feet of office and retail space. Menlo Park Tomorrow claimed that the project was too dense and tall for many residents. Menlo Park Tomorrow proceeded to gather 2,500 signatures for a referendum, and managed to whittle down the project to 108 units and three stories, and added another 4,000 square feet of retail, changes that the council could have asked for during the approval process.

The development agreement also called for a payment of $2 million from the O'Brien group to the City.

The revised project was approved by the Planning Commission and was due to go to Council where approval was expected, when the O'Brien group decided not to proceed.

The Derry project did not include the 1300 El Camino (former Cadillac) site. That site later did obtain approval for a project, but the project was never built by the developer.

SaveMenlo, the group sponsoring the present Initiative is not the same group that sponsored the Derry Referendum and which reached a compromise project with the O'Brien group.

The proposed Greenheart Project would develop both sites.

The proposed Greenheart Project is an outright disaster. Its density is well over 2 times that of the Original Derry Project, will generate horrendous traffic problems; with only 1.2 car spaces per residence, not nearly enough parking.

Morris Brown
contact person for the Derry Referendum
Stone Pine Lane
42 Year resident


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MOE
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

This is a very well balanced mixed use project. 95% underground parking is a great start and density in itself is not the problem as long as it is well designed and livable. Population growth is inevitable and if you treasure you open spaces you will have to accept higher density in urban areas. Don't try to whittle this project down to the point of becoming economically infeasible. And vote NO on the initiative in November.


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