Menlo Park council drops Rural Lane site, but proposes higher densities elsewhere | October 31, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 31, 2012

Menlo Park council drops Rural Lane site, but proposes higher densities elsewhere

by Sandy Brundage

Squeaky wheels get the grease, so the saying goes, and the Menlo Park City Council listened. Protest by hundreds of people over allowing housing on Rural Lane led to the council's decision to drop the site from consideration .

The preliminary draft of the housing plan update proposed rezoning the Rural Lane site to allow 24 units on two acres. Public speakers during the Oct. 23 council meeting voiced concerns about the potential burden on the Las Lomitas School District, traffic hazards along Alpine Road, and the lack of any nearby public transportation.

The council cautioned that Stanford University has plans for Rural Lane. "Even if we drop it from the list, Stanford still has the right to build housing on its property," said Mayor Kirsten Keith. The university sent a letter to the city indicating it wants to put faculty housing there.

In the end the council decided 4-0 by acclamation to leave Rural Lane alone. Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson recused herself since her husband works for Stanford.

But as another old saying goes, your loss is someone else's gain. To make up for losing that site, the council decided 5-0 by acclamation to research increasing the density of the former post office site at 3875 Bohannon Drive. The 1.89-acre property would be rezoned from 30 to 40 units per acre.

"I'm comfortable with the post office site going up to potentially 40 units per acre," said Vice Mayor Peter Ohtaki, but he was concerned about balance. "We didn't hear a whole lot of opposition from Belle Haven around these sites but if you push it, my guess is you'll get it."

The council also considered raising the density of sites on Hamilton and Haven avenues, with City Attorney Bill McClure warning that doing so without neighborhood outreach could cause "some concerns politically," at least on Hamilton Avenue.

Continuing to tweak the draft plan, the council asked staff to research dividing 60 housing units among three sites in the Linfield Oaks neighborhood, whose residents have also been vociferous in their opposition. Mr. McClure said the city could decide to remove entire sites or portions during the upcoming review process.

"We'll look at removing two, probably," said Mayor Keith.

Menlo Park must add enough high-density housing zones to accommodate space for 1,000 to 1,975 units as part of a lawsuit settlement over its non-compliance with the state housing law. The city is not required to actually build the units, but has to provide incentives for developers to do so, according to the settlement approved on May 22.

State law dictates that cities assess and plan to meet their fair share of regional housing needs, which includes affordable housing, every seven years. Menlo Park hasn't met the state requirements since 1992, but now has only until Oct. 31 to send a draft update to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

"We do not have control over our community," Councilman Rich Cline noted during an unusually long comment earlier in the evening that called the state's ability to impose housing requirements "dangerous" for the city.

He expressed disappointment that the mixed-use Arrillaga project proposed for Stanford's lots on El Camino Real contained mostly medical offices with only "a sliver of housing," contrary to what the city told the university it wanted during negotiations over the specific plan. The university's vision for the sites apparently changed once the specific plan passed, he said, leaving those El Camino lots to now play only a minor role in contributing to the city's housing capacity.

Meeting schedule

The city still has months of work ahead before finalizing the draft plan. The update process will include an environmental assessment and fiscal impact analysis to evaluate how higher-density zoning could affect service and school districts should units be built, according to Development Services Manager Justin Murphy. To allow for more information to be available for public review, staff has recommended postponing a series of community workshops from November to January.

Several commissions will review the draft update and general plan amendments in December:

• Housing Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 p.m.

• Environmental Quality Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6:30 p.m. (to be heard later on the agenda to allow time for earlier Housing Commission meeting)

• Bicycle Commission: Monday, Dec. 10 ,at 7 p.m.

• Transportation Commission, Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m.

• Planning Commission: Monday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m.

• Parks & Recreation Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 6:30 p.m.