Sobrato development moves ahead
Menlo Park's M2 industrial district on the east side of town probably ranks second on the list of areas the city would most like to see revived, with the empty car lots on El Camino Real claiming the top spot. A cautious council took steps during its Dec. 11 meeting to help that happen.
The Sobrato Organization submitted a proposal in March to redevelop 151 Commonwealth Drive and 164 Jefferson Drive. The company bought the site about 18 months ago from alcohol producer Diageo. Sobrato wants to build two four-story research and development buildings totaling 259,919 square feet on 13.3 acres after demolishing structures currently on the site. Since the height of the buildings would exceed 35 feet, the developer needs a conditional development permit.
What the developer doesn't need is a development agreement — a contract between an applicant and Menlo Park for community benefits in exchange for project approvals. The city can't require developers to apply for such a contract, and the Planning Commission had noted in its review of Sobrato's proposal that the applicant hadn't asked for one.
Representatives from Sobrato met with several council members individually in the weeks prior to the Dec. 11 meeting.
When asked if she had done so, Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said, "Yes, I believe that the city manager suggested that we meet with them individually, so that we would fully understand what they want to build in Menlo Park."
Colleague Ray Mueller also met with Sobrato, as did Councilman Peter Ohtaki, who said, "I meet both with applicants and opponents, if any, to make sure I've learned about both sides on larger projects."
But Councilman Rich Cline said he declined the invitation. "I typically avoid meeting developers. I get all the plans and all the info I need and I try to spend time preparing by talking with impacted community members. Menlo Gateway was the one exception."
Project representatives told the council during the Tuesday night meeting that they're concerned about potentially paying $3.8 million for traffic impacts that they estimate should be mitigated by a fair share contribution of $300,000 to $500,000.
Sobrato Development Director Richard Truempler said a preliminary estimate showed the project could yield $100,000 in annual benefits for Menlo Park, plus $163,000 for the fire district and $135,000 for the Sequoia Union High School District. A fiscal analysis will be conducted as part of the environmental impact review approved by the council.
Mr. Truempler did not respond to the Almanac's request for comment on the possibility of a development agreement and why the company chose to meet individually with council members prior to the public meeting.
Community members praised the Sobrato Family Foundation's philanthropy. Peter Fortenbaugh of the Peninsula Boys and Girls Club highlighted "its incredibly generous support" of more than $1 million to the nonprofit.
Councilman Cline commented that he was worried about what sort of tenants would lease the office space. "I get starry eyed, then projects come out filled with lawyers ... which don't produce sales tax."
Overall, though, the council appeared excited about new development in the industrial district, and voted 5-0 to move the proposal forward for environmental review.
Go to tinyurl.com/MP-Common to review reports associated with the project on the city's website.