Two Menlo Park City Council members – Peter Ohtaki and Ray Mueller – will serve on a subcommittee to hammer out a development agreement with Stanford University over its proposal to build a 459,000-square-foot housing, office and retail complex at 500 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.
Stanford plans to build 215 rental apartments, 144,000 square feet of office space, and 10,000 square feet of retail space.
The subcommittee will also review Stanford's proposed 2018 general use permit for its campus expansion.
A development agreement is not necessary for the proposed complex because it complies with the "base" development threshold requirements in the city's El Camino Real/downtown specific plan. However, an agreement is likely needed to lay out Stanford's responsibilities should the city move ahead with plans to build a pedestrian-and-bike grade-separated crossing of the Caltrain tracks (a tunnel under the tracks or a bridge over them) at Middle Avenue, said John Donohoe, Stanford associate director of planning, at a March 27 Menlo Park Planning Commission meeting.
The university has committed to fund a "significant" portion of the costs of the crossing project, but since the contract to study and partially design the project was only awarded March 14, it will likely be some time before the full costs are known.
Stanford also is in the process of updating its general use permit, and is seeking permission from Santa Clara County to expand its campus facilities by up to 2.28 million square feet of academic space and 3,150 housing units between 2018 and 2035. Menlo Park won't decide whether Stanford gets its permit (that's up to Santa Clara County), but the subcommittee will represent Menlo Park in the review process and in communications with Stanford and Santa Clara County.
Checking off another step in its long march toward approval, Stanford's proposed development faced about four hours of public scrutiny at the city's Planning Commission meeting on March 27.
To answer some questions: The developer does not plan to charge for office parking, though residential parking may be "unbundled" (sold separately) from the rent prices. The Stanford Marguerite shuttle will continue to operate as it does now, in that it does not require people to show Stanford IDs to ride it. In other words, anyone can ride it for free.
The university doesn't yet know what retail will be at the site, Mr. Donahoe said.
Offering the residential units to Stanford faculty is, in Mr. Donohoe's words, "a little bit of an experiment from Stanford," because the university doesn't know how many faculty are interested in living in attached housing. By building one- and two-bedroom units, which are in high demand, he said, the university can hedge its bets if it decides to rent the units on the market. If that were to happen, the units would switch from being tax-exempt to being subject to property taxes.
Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the chief business officer of the Menlo Park City School District, expressed concern that Stanford's development could add to the district's student population without paying property taxes on apartments rented to Stanford faculty.
He also noted that the added traffic might cut through what the city has designated as "safe routes to school," creating safety hazards. He suggested crossing guards could be hired to to mitigate the impacts.
Barring some architectural criticism, planning commissioners were largely supportive of the proposed Stanford complex. Commissioner Andrew Barnes said he wished there were more green space.
The real problem, said Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs, "isn't the project. It's El Camino Real."
Mr. Riggs said that in years past, there had been a stronger commitment to fix the bottleneck that is Menlo Park's stretch of El Camino. But, he said, that commitment by the city of Menlo Park went "down the toilet."