News - May 12, 2010

Commission votes for Bohannon project

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park's Planning Commission voted 4-3 at its May 3 meeting in favor of a major development project proposed by the Bohannon Development Co. near the intersection of Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway.

The project includes three eight-story office buildings and a 230-room hotel with a sports club, as well as several large parking garages. It would total nearly 1 million square feet, roughly the size in floor area of the Sun Microsystems campus at the end of Willow Road.

The commission's recommendation will go to the City Council, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project May 25. Under the current schedule, the council could approve the project at a subsequent meeting June 15.

Among other things, the commission recommended that the council ask the Bohannon Development Co. to "identify" 5 to 10 acres within Menlo Park that would be suitable for housing, and to ask the company to provide an annual in-lieu fee at the rate of $1.40 per square foot of office space that's built. That would amount to nearly $1 million per year for city coffers in addition to the $1.4.-to-1.7 million the city already anticipates in annual tax revenue, assuming the project is built.

"That, I think, is a very significant addressing of what the increase in value of the land would be, especially considering the fact that there is really no increase in value unless someone puts cash in up front, and takes the very significant risk involved in developing this property," said Henry Riggs, the commission member who made the motion.

Vince Bressler, John Kadvany, and Melody Pagee dissented in the vote, saying that the city needed to spend more time evaluating the project. The vote fell along the same lines as the commission's recommendation on the new Burgess Gymnasium in June 2009.

"I think a million dollars a year is a pretty small fraction of the incremental increase in cash flow potential that exists here," Mr. Bressler said, referring to Mr. Riggs' motion. "And I think we need a process to really thoroughly air this out. And I definitely can't support this unless that's part of what we're talking about here."

Not agree

The Bohannon Co. has since told the city that it would not agree to pay the in-lieu fee.

The company did, however, agree to several other terms recommended by the commission, including modifying the project's design to reduce the footprint of parking garages that are part of the development proposal, and checking in more often with the Planning Commission to review architectural plans.

Mr. Kadvany said he thought the commission was overlooking the central issue of planning for the city's waterfront land, especially when it comes to dealing with prominent overhead power lines that stretch along the Bayfront.

"I'm really dismayed at the lack of urban planning that's going on here," he said, maintaining that the city was too focused on monetary benefits, and calling the process "design-by-spreadsheet." "If we don't think about this now ... if (the) council doesn't talk about it, it's just ... I just don't get it."

Commission members who voted in favor of the project praised its aesthetics, and commended developer David Bohannon for his dedication to working with the city.

"This is a very attractive project," Mr. Riggs said. "If it goes forward, I think we will be proud of it. Our whole town will be proud of it."

"There's just so much that speaks for this project being good for the town," said commission chair John O'Malley.


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