The Menlo Park City Council and Planning Commission wrestled with that question during a joint study session on April 9 to review the upcoming housing plan update.
The update is apart of a lawsuit settlement over the city's failure to comply with state housing law for the past 10 years. To catch up, Menlo Park has to find sites where zoning changes could allow construction of about 900 new housing units, with 454 units dedicated to affordable housing.
After holding numerous community workshops and study sessions, the city focused on five sites:
• A site at the Department of Veterans Affairs campus in the 700 block of Willow Road (60 housing units).
• Gateway Apartments at two locations: the 1200 block of Willow Road and the 1300 block of Willow Road. Both sites are owned by the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition (78 units total).
• Hamilton Avenue East located in the 700 and 800 blocks of Hamilton Avenue (216 units).
• A site in the 3600 block of Haven Avenue (540 units).
All five sites would be zoned for 30 units per acre to qualify as affordable housing.
Several Belle Haven residents asked why all the the sites are on the east side of Menlo Park.
"It would be great if we had a fair city," said Rose Bickerstaff, adding that more housing in Belle Haven would burden the Ravenswood School District, which is already underperforming compared with other city schools.
Representatives from the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition said that increasing the housing density of their properties would benefit the Belle Haven community. Jan Lidenthal, vice president of real estate development, told city officials that the change would allow the 40-year-old properties to undergo renovations that would include an "enhanced community space" to add onsite services, such as an academic after-school program five days a week.
Development Services Manager Justin Murphy said several factors influenced site selection, including whether the properties would be available for development by 2014; if the owners were interested in rezoning; and where job growth is likely to occur.
In response to queries about whether the proposed rezoning plan would create an unfair burden on local schools, City Attorney Bill McClure said, "The city really doesn't have a choice to not move forward and adopt a housing element." He explained that since the state does not consider that to be an environmental impact, it can't be used as a defense against updating the housing element.
Planning Commission Chair Katie Ferrick asked whether the city could require developers to pay fees or incorporate other mechanisms to balance out the impact on schools.
"No. Because part of this is you can't attach burdens that make a project economically unfeasible or unbuildable because then we won't get the housing element certified (by the state)," Mr. McClure responded.
Menlo Park is also likely to implement programs allowing construction of 300 "granny units" — small, secondary housing units on single-family parcels — and an additional 118 units on existing housing sites as in-fill development, as discussed during the study session. Existing granny units could apply for amnesty.
The Housing Commission will review the update on April 18. The Planning Commission is scheduled to make recommendations on the update on April 21, with council action to follow on May 22.
Go to tinyurl.com/MP-HEU to review the proposed changes, along with the environmental and financial impact reports.