With its corner site, stucco finish and red tile roofs, the Greenheart development appears less massive than the Stanford/Arrillaga proposal for 700 El Camino Real, although in total it adds up to 210,000 square feet of office space and another 210,000 square feet of housing and retail space. The Stanford/Arrillaga proposal, about 200,000 square feet of office space and 170 units of housing, adds up to 413,000 to 459,000 square feet of space in a group of three- and four-story buildings, with some floors stepped back from El Camino. It size and density has generated a significant amount of protest from some Menlo Park residents.
Those disappointed in the Stanford project are concerned about parking and traffic impacts, as well as drivers hoping to avoid congestion around the Stanford/Arrillaga buildings cutting through neighborhood streets. In a conciliatory move, Stanford has agreed to pay for a traffic impact study and said it will help fund a bike-pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks at Middle Avenue that would provide access to Burgess Park and City Hall.
Since it was revealed last week in the Almanac, the public is invited to comment on the Greenheart project, which would be a short walk from the Menlo Park train station. No definitive studies showing the impact of traffic have been conducted on either project. Both projects plan to build underground garages to provide parking for the majority of the vehicles used by apartment owners and office workers.
Greenheart principal Steve Pierce provided some detail on the company's housing plans — which will feature 215 mostly smaller apartments with an average size of 825 square feet. The mix will include 144 studio or one-bedroom units, 64 two- bedroom units and seven units with three bedrooms. Greenheart's vision for the site begins with the hope that its smaller units will attract young workers who might liven up the nightlife scene in Menlo Park. The plan is to use the allotted ground floor retail space fronting on El Camino and Oak Grove to entice destination restaurants, food shops and other appealing venues.
It remains to be seen how Greenheart will fare with the City Council and the vocal core of residents, including those with Save Menlo, who have protested the Stanford/Arrillaga project. The developers have carefully drawn both projects to conform to the new downtown specific plan, which has been under review at the Planning Commission and will reach the council in a few weeks. So far, despite strong criticism from Save Menlo and other residents charging that the new plan gives far too much away to developers, it is not anticipated that either body will suggest massive changes to the specific plan.
The Greenheart project expects to qualify for a public benefit bonus, which will be negotiated with the city. The Stanford development does not require a public benefit.
All of this adds up to the expectation that several large eyesore properties — vacant car dealerships on El Camino Real and the Derry site off Oak Grove Avenue — may soon become home to buildings that will house hundreds of office workers and new residents.
The best the city can hope for now is that local government leaders carefully scrutinize every detail of the specific plan, which could be changed if a majority of the council agrees. But unless that happens, the projects conform to the new plan and will be given the OK to proceed with building a combined 800,000-plus square feet of mixed-use development that is certain to have a lasting impact on the city and nearby neighborhoods.