Almanac

News - October 19, 2011

Atherton council asked to approve library in park

by Renee Batti

A citizens committee created to examine options for rebuilding Atherton's public library wants the City Council to approve constructing a new facility in Holbrook-Palmer Park — pending the town's meeting environmental review requirements — when the council meets on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

But the town's Parks and Recreation Commission has sided with a group of residents who want the town to determine how the majority of residents feel about a library in the park. The commission voted at its Oct. 5 meeting to recommend to the council that no decision be made on the matter until a town-wide survey of residents is conducted.

The issue pits residents and county library staff who think the park is the ideal place for a modern library — one that has more space to house its collections and to accommodate group activities — against residents protective of the park, who say a library would draw too much traffic and interfere with recreational activities.

The plan put forward by the Atherton Library Steering Committee is for an 11,000-square-foot facility to be built on the site of the park's Main House, which would be razed. Funding, estimated at more than $8 million, would come from a town fund that must be spent on the library. The fund currently has about $5.6 million, and is expected to grow to $8.3 million by 2015, according to the town's finance director, Louise Ho.

Opponents of a library in the park say the town should renovate and expand the existing library in the Town Center, at far less cost. The 4,790-square-foot building that now houses the library is in need of a seismic retrofit and other upgrades.

The staff is recommending that the council next week approve the park "as the preferred site" for the new library to replace the Main House, pending meeting CEQA (environmental review) requirements. The town attorney has advised that, because of the "public controversy related to the project's environmental effects," an environmental impact review (EIR) be done, according to the staff report.

Steering committee members aren't convinced of the need for an EIR, and have asked City Attorney Bill Conners for an official opinion with legal citation, and are seeking independent legal counsel on the matter, the report said.

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 94 Ashfield Road, in the Town Center.

Visit www.ci.Atherton.ca.us and click on "Agenda & Minutes" under the City Council heading to find the agenda and staff report.

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