While some say Stanford and developer John Arrillaga took a step in the right direction by adding housing and reducing medical office space for its proposed El Camino Real development in Menlo Park, others said the changes don't go far enough.
The revisions unveiled this week would replace mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real with 25,000 square feet of medical offices, 174,500 square feet of regular offices, 10,000 square feet of retail, up to 170 apartments and a public plaza at Middle Avenue with two car lanes instead of three, along with a pedestrian and bicycle path from El Camino Real to a potential future bike tunnel.
Representatives of Save Menlo, a grassroots coalition organized to oppose the initial eight-acre mixed-use proposal, told the Almanac they want zero medical office space and a smaller overall project.
"Stanford should go to Redwood City which welcomes Stanford to build medical offices by their 101 office park. Menlo Park does not want high-traffic medical offices on El Camino," spokeswoman Perla Ni said in an email.
"There has been no change to the overall size. Only repackaging the mix. So it's still 449,000 square feet -- the size of 4 Walmarts. This still represents an 87 percent increase in development from what was allowed under the previous zoning law year. Stanford says that the traffic will be reduced by 35 percent from their prior plan. However, they don't disclose how much that total traffic is."
Both Kirsten Keith and Rich Cline, two Menlo Park council members who called for a review of the specific plan as it directly relates to the Stanford project, regarded the changes as a positive development.
"The project appears to be moving in the right direction, given the reduction in medical office space from 95,000 to 25,000 square feet, and the increase in housing to 170 units (from 150)," Ms. Keith said in an email.
"Traffic impacts are a major concern. We will carefully analyze the traffic data when it is available. We also need a design for the bike/pedestrian tunnel at Middle Avenue."
According to Stanford's analysis, the latest changes would cut daily car trips by 35 percent. Menlo Park is conducting its own traffic study.
"The vast majority of citizens wants to see your parcels developed. However, we're convinced that the project would be received much more positively if it was smaller," Save Menlo member Stefan Petry wrote to the university and the City Council after previewing the design changes. His letter said that "no matter how much you tweak the architecture it remains a very large project with unprecedented traffic impacts in the middle of very residential parts of Menlo Park."
A smaller project would create "a more welcoming El Camino gateway into Menlo Park, enhance its neighborhood comparability as well as reduce (its) traffic and safety impacts."
The council plans to review the new downtown/El Camino Real specific plan as it relates to Stanford's proposal on Tuesday, April 16.
Technically, Stanford does not have to change anything about its plan -- even the original proposal appeared to meet baseline requirements for development allowed by the specific plan, meaning that the project would not trigger any negotiations for public benefits. It also would not have required approval beyond the Planning Commission's signing off on the architectural details.
That hasn't stopped the city from maneuvering to encourage revisions. According to the staff report for the upcoming meeting, the council could choose to establish a subcommittee focused on the project or make "minor modifications" to the specific plan such as adding a conditional permit requirement for certain uses that would take up to four months to implement after analysis and public hearings.
Some residents have called for a moratorium on medical office construction; the staff report suggests that making a major change like that would take up to a year, during which time the current specific plan regulations remain in effect and govern development of Stanford's properties. The council could pass a temporary, 45-day moratorium with 'yes' votes from four of the five members and extend that to 22 months and 15 days after a public hearing and another four-fifths vote.
Another tactic removing Stanford's parcels from the specific plan boundaries carries its own complications. The staff report describes this as "more complex" than the other options, given the degree to which the specific plan process focused on encouraging development of the vacant lots on El Camino Real, and could create new, unanticipated community impacts.
The April 16 council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St. Click here to review the staff report.