News - June 16, 2010

Menlo Park council could vote on Bohannon project June 15

by Sean Howell

Menlo Park's City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve a prodigious land development project near Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway at its meeting Tuesday, June 15. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, located between Laurel and Alma streets in the Civic Center complex.

Proposed by the Bohannon Development Co., the project includes three eight-story office buildings and a 230-room hotel with a sports club, totaling nearly 1 million square feet, as well as several large parking garages.

The city would have to make major zoning and general plan concessions to allow for the new buildings. It would receive nearly $14 million in various mitigation fees, an estimated $1.6 million in annual tax revenue, and various other public benefits, including a revenue guarantee, revenue from a hotel tax increase, a one-time payment of $1.25 million to fund capital improvement projects in the eastern reaches of the city, and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

While the size of the buildings, traffic impacts and greenhouse gas emissions were prominent topics of concern early on, the focus of debate has shifted recently to the question of whether the city would be getting enough money in the speculative deal.

Even more recently, Councilman Andy Cohen told developer David Bohannon that he could not support the project unless he (Mr. Bohannon) funded a major, comprehensive land-use planning study of the city's "light industrial" region, similar to the three-year study currently under way in the city center. Mr. Cohen did not made that suggestion in the public meetings during the negotiating process.

"With such a plan in place, then I could see supporting a project such as this, as long as I knew that it was part of a larger vision for the area," Mr. Cohen wrote in the letter to Mr. Bohannon, a copy of which he provided to The Almanac on Monday, June 14.

The council as a whole has previously signaled that it did not want to pursue such a study. The city is instead carrying out several separate efforts to plan the large area, a program Mr. Bohannon has said he supports.

"It's no secret that 'let's do more planning' is a euphemism for, 'let's not do anything,'" Mr. Bohannon said in an interview.

On the five-person council, John Boyle, Rich Cline, and Heyward Robinson have signaled general support for the project, though the vote is not certain. Mr. Cohen and Kelly Fergusson have expressed more reservations than their council colleagues.


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