When your city is only 19 square miles big and largely built out, where do you find room to build more housing units? Menlo Park city officials have started the very first steps in updating the housing element of the town's general plan and complying with the terms of a lawsuit settlement.
Three housing advocacy groups filed the lawsuit in May, alleging that Menlo Park has failed to comply with state housing laws. The city quickly settled, under terms that require it to provide the zoning necessary to add sites for 1,975 housing units, both market-rate and affordable housing, to its current stock of 12,500.
A new housing element steering committee met on June 26 to outline what needs to happen and review preliminary data, with a focus on identifying potential sites for high-density housing, which the state defines as a minimum 30 units per acre. Serving on the six-member committee are council members Andy Cohen and Peter Ohtaki; housing commissioners Carolyn Clarke and Anne Moser; and planning commissioners Katie Ferrick and Jack O'Malley.
The committee discussed the preliminary criteria for ranking housing sites, which include proximity to transit and other services, size, and impact on neighbors and environmental resources.
An early map of potential sites shows 14 locations mainly distributed along the perimeter of Menlo Park. The committee asked to add major bus routes to the preliminary map to ensure that sites are distributed and allocated around the city so that no single neighborhood bears the brunt of the changes, Mr. Ohtaki told the Almanac.
A key first step is taking a housing inventory to figure out the existing capacity for additional homes within current zoning, including those allowed under the new downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, and any housing built since 1998, which could be deducted from the preliminary number. According to staff, the inventory should be done by Aug. 31 and may leave a net requirement of 900 units.
The steering committee meets again on July 17. An outreach to "stakeholder groups" will take place at the end of the month, followed by community workshops on Aug. 15 and 16.
Mr. Ohtaki said the steering committee also encouraged staff to reach out to neighborhoods.
Click here for more information from the city on the housing element project.