The Greenheart Land Company said it waited for Menlo Park's new specific plan before moving forward with a project for 1300 El Camino Real, the site of a now-defunct Cadillac dealership and the former site of the Derry project, on about 3.5 acres between the Caltrain station and El Camino Real.
Then Menlo Park decided to review the specific plan, starting with the Planning Commission on Monday (Sept. 9).
Now, according to Greenheart representative Bob Burke, plans are on hold until the company sees what happens with the review. The company is considering building a mix of ground-level retail, apartments and office space on the parcels.
"We were very close and ready to do the project, and now we have to see how that goes," he said. "No one knows how that's going to turn out."
Mr. Burke questioned the necessity of opening the specific plan to a complete overhaul after the city spent five years and held dozens of public meetings to create it.
"It's very sad. It's very, very disconcerting, in our opinion. (The specific plan) is one of the reason we came here and decided to invest in this community," he said, since developers would know what the rules were and how to comply.
While a review is always a good idea, he said, because there are always minor tweaks to make when things happen that a city didn't anticipate, the potential for a major overhaul "makes you say, wait a minute, why would anybody want to propose (projects) now?"
A group of residents citing traffic and housing impacts has led the charge against the current specific plan after Stanford University and developer John Arrillaga proposed building an eight-acre mixed-use complex along 300 to 500 El Camino Real that met the plan's baseline criteria without triggering public benefit requirements.
Several spoke against the specific plan on Monday night, saying that it allows so much density and traffic that it would ruin the quality of life in Menlo Park.
"Scuttle the specific plan instead of spending months rearranging the deck chairs pretending this plan won't sink the city," resident Cherie Zaslawsky urged.
After hearing public comment, the Planning Commission, through a series of preliminary votes on Monday night, signaled that a total revamp of the specific plan is very unlikely, given the five years' of analysis that went into its construction.
"This is a review," Commissioner Katie Ferrick said. "We're not necessarily going to make any changes. We'll see what we come up with."
Five commissioners said they were "favorably disposed" towards the density and floor area ratios -- the scale, in other words -- of buildings allowed under the specific plan. Katherine Strehl and John Onken abstained since they are recused from voting on certain zones of the specific plan,
The two areas that might need refinement were control over proposed projects and proportion of specific uses, such as housing versus office space.
Four commissioners -- John Kadvany, Ben Eiref, Katie Ferrick and Vince Bressler -- thought more control beyond architectural review may be needed. Ms. Ferrick said her concern involved a lack of funding mechanisms for certain aspects of the plan, such as pedestrian and bike undercrossings.
The commission unanimously agreed to consider whether the city needed more ways to guide the selection of uses proposed for a site.
The Planning Commission will continue its specific plan review during upcoming meetings, with the goal of providing recommendations for the City Council to consider.
Meanwhile, another project that waited for passage of the specific plan is moving forward.
Howard Crittenden told the Almanac in December that he planned to turn his Park Theatre property, located at 1275 El Camino Real, into office space and retail. With the specific plan in place, the remaining obstacle was the historic nature of the theater, he said.
According to the city, that obstacle has now been removed. Menlo Park asked VerPlanck Historic Preservation Consulting earlier this year to evaluate whether the theater, built during the 1940s, still qualified as a historic building, given the numerous changes made during past decades, including the removal of a sign, plaster finishes and ornamentation, as well as the remodeling of the concessions stand.
The consultant concluded that the building no longer counted as historic per national criteria, according to a letter from Arlinda Heineck, the city's community development director, to the local historical association. The association in turn said it did not have a problem with the demolition of the building.
What exactly will replace the theater remains to be seen. "No plans have been submitted for the Park Theater site. The demolition permit is still pending. We are waiting for a resubmittal by the applicant in response to plan check comments," Ms. Heineck said on Sept. 9.
Mr. Crittenden did not respond to inquiries whether his plans for the property have changed.