Facing little alternative due to new state housing laws, the Menlo Park City Council voted Tuesday, Sept. 14, to approve more than 800 new housing units on the Bay side of Menlo Park proposed by the developer Greystar.
The City Council held two public hearings Tuesday to consider appeals of Planning Commission approvals of two Greystar development proposals. Those appeals were led by the Sequoia Union High School District and City Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, who represents the voting district where the developments are proposed.
The first proposal, Menlo Uptown, plans to build 441 new apartments and 42 new condominiums, as well as an on-site urgent care clinic at 141 Jefferson Drive and 180-106 Constitution Drive. The second proposal, called Menlo Portal, calls for 335 new apartments, about 34,500 square feet of office space and a 1,600-square-foot child care center at 115 Independence Drive and 104 and 110 Constitution Drive. Combined, the two developments would add 818 new homes to the city.
Council members, as well as City Attorney Nira Doherty, noted that the Menlo Park City Council now has less discretion than it used to when it comes to approving housing projects due in part to the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, also known as SB 330, which limits the number of public meetings on a housing project proposal to no more than five hearings. Tuesday's meeting was the fifth, which triggered in the council a sense of urgency to make a decision. SB 330 also prevents cities from imposing additional fees or policies on developers that weren't in effect when the developer filed the initial application with the city.
The City Council ultimately voted 4-1 to approve both developments, with Taylor opposed each time. In both instances, the council opted to impose certain conditions on the proposals, including what's called a "PILOT agreement" #150; an acronym for an agreement for "payment in lieu of taxes." The agreement protects the city from a circumstance that occurred with another Greystar development in Redwood City when it was sold to Stanford University in 2019 as faculty housing. Because Stanford is an academic institution, it doesn't have to pay property taxes on buildings it owns and operates as student and faculty housing, which can reduce the property tax base for a city. The PILOT agreement would only take effect if the property is sold to a tax-exempt owner; otherwise the city would continue to receive the standard property taxes.
In addition, the council requested that the developer meet with Sequoia Union High School District to talk about the district's concerns. Among other things, the district's appeal alleged that the process to analyze the potential environmental impacts didn't take into account the proximity of TIDE Academy, a high school located just across the street from the project. It also argued that the impact fees the district would collect from the developer don't account for the full added costs the school district takes on when new developments generate additional students.
Taylor's appeal request raised concerns that included how the development would impact projected drought-related water shortages and existing transportation infrastructure problems in the area. She also argued that the city's current policy of mandating that 15% of the new homes be designated for below-market-rate households is not enough to prevent or slow displacement in the community.
Staff pushed back on the latter argument, saying that a housing needs assessment conducted for the project found that the development is expected to increase the city's housing availability by 498 units, larger than the number of actual units the development will provide. That's because the number of people that won't be working there anymore when the existing commercial buildings are demolished – each of whom generates local housing demand #150; is expected to be slightly higher than the new job demand generated by the development's new residents, according to a staff report.
Council members also agreed at a later point to review a subset of the traffic projects that the developer has agreed to as mitigation for the added traffic associated with the development.
The Menlo Uptown development is slated to provide 172 studio apartments, 224 one-bedroom apartments, 33 two-bedroom apartments and 12 three-bedroom apartments. Thirty of the for-sale townhomes will have three bedrooms, while 12 of the townhomes will be four-bedroom residences.
Of those, 73 will be set aside as below market rate for households earning less than the area median income. Broken down, there will be 29 below-market-rate studios, 33 one-bedroom units, four two-bedroom residences, one three-bedroom unit and six for-sale townhomes for moderate-income households, of which five will have three bedrooms and one will have four bedrooms.
The Menlo Uptown development will also include a 2,940-square-foot space dedicated as an urgent care center to be operated by the Ravenswood Family Health Network, which is considered to be a community amenity valued at $8.9 million.
The Menlo Portal development would add 335 apartments to the city, 48 of which would be set aside for lower-income households.
As a community amenity, the developer would contract with All Five, an early childhood education provider in Belle Haven, to operate a child care facility at the new development. The commitment adds up to about an $8.9 million contribution, including building space, a student tuition, and an in-lieu payment to the city of $3.8 million.
Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]