In January the university submitted a site plan for replacing eight acres of car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real with a mixed-use complex of 96,000 square feet of medical offices, 133,500 square feet of offices, 10,000 square feet of retail, and two five-story apartment buildings containing up to 152 units.
The Menlo Park Planning Commission held a study session about the project on Jan. 28, fielding a couple dozen comments from residents unhappy with the potential traffic impacts and the scale of the complex compared with surrounding buildings.
The commission itself requested further analysis of the traffic impacts and retail parking, wondered whether the multi-story, modernistic design suited the city, and asked whether the project's Middle Avenue plaza is more a three-lane easement for cars accessing the complex instead of public space.
Now, the university might change the exact configuration of the site plan. "Stanford is considering the comments and suggestions received at the planning commission meeting," said Steve Elliott, managing director of real estate for the university. "Technically, the plans have not been 'withdrawn' but at this preliminary stage, we are working on potential revisions to our submittal."
While he declined to go into detail about what changes could be made, he said the project team is evaluating issues raised at the commission meeting, including traffic issues, the design for a plaza on Middle Avenue, the architecture of the office buildings, and the inclusion of medical offices.
"Right now we don't have a specific time frame for submitting these (revisions) to the city," Mr. Elliott said.
During the Planning Commission study session, Mr. Elliot stated that the university acknowledged that Stanford "will need to contribute our fair share to" traffic mitigation in addition to paying traffic impact fees. "Drawing on our extensive transportation management experience, Stanford will create a comprehensive transportation demand management plan to reduce the project's traffic," he said.
Members of Save Menlo, a grassroots coalition that organized a petition opposing the project, sat down again with Stanford to discuss the complex in the days after the study session.
"We had a cordial meeting, and we appreciate how well they listened to us. However, Stanford gave us no indication what changes they might make to their plans," Perla Ni, Save Menlo spokeswoman, said.
The group said it reiterated concerns about safety, congestion, cut-through traffic, a car-free plaza and the housing imbalance, and plans to meet with Stanford again in a few weeks.
The Sierra Club also took a look at the proposal. According to an analysis by its Sustainable Land Use Committee, the eight-acre mixed-used complex in its January incarnation would create about 900 jobs — about six times as many jobs as housing units if 152 apartments are built.
The club proposes slicing both medical and regular office space in half — to 114,750 square feet — to create room to build 234 apartments in total. That yields a job-to-housing ratio of 2-to-1, which is the overall ratio for Menlo Park, according to the Sierra Club, and also helps reduce the traffic impact. With the city's current struggle to identify enough high-density housing sites to get back in compliance with state law — and the promise of future demands for more sites — the ratio may be an important parameter.
Whatever changes, the proposal will likely stay consistent with the baseline requirements of the specific plan to avoid triggering public benefit discussions. That leaves Menlo Park without much control over the project, since the only approval required will be the Planning Commission signing off on architectural details.