Almanac

Cover Story - October 13, 2010

Measure T: Allow Bohannon to build office-hotel complex?

by Sandy Brundage

Measure T, the Bohannon Menlo Gateway project, is the ballot measure that almost wasn't. Despite the 4-1 vote by the Menlo Park City Council on June 15 to approve the project, the council members still decided to leave the final approval up to voters.

If passed, the measure would amend the general plan to add a "business park" land-use category, and apply that category to 16 acres on the east side of U.S. 101 that span Independence Drive and Constitution Drive. This change would allow the Bohannon Development Company to construct the mixed-use Gateway on that site.

The plan for Menlo Gateway consists of a 230-room, seven-floor hotel, a 4,285-square-foot restaurant, and a 70,000-square-foot fitness club in one multi-story building. Three other buildings will house office complexes and parking garages.

At roughly 950,000 square feet, the total floor area of the office buildings, hotel and health club would be roughly equivalent to that of the Sun Microsystems campus at the east end of Willow Road, according to city planning staff.

Background

When the Menlo Park City Council voted to approve Menlo Gateway, Councilman John Boyle provided the lone dissenting vote, saying that although he supported the project, he didn't want a complex land-use decision to be spun by political campaigns. Later, colleague Andy Cohen went on to help write the ballot arguments against Measure T, even though he voted for the project.

Menlo Gateway became controversial in part because of its environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions, traffic, and noise. Opponents also argue those impacts outweigh the city's financial benefits. "It's a lousy deal for the city," said Patti Fry, a former planning commissioner.

The city's projections estimate $1.4 million in annual hotel revenue — a fraction of the $40 million to $60 million Mr. Bohannon would earn, according to the "No on Measure T" camp. The developer also agreed to contribute $1.25 million for improvements to the Belle Haven neighborhood and Bedwell Bayfront Park on Marsh Road, which borders the site.

Which schools would benefit from the project's property taxes remains contentious. A "Yes on Measure T" postcard mailed to Menlo Park residents stated Gateway "also provides $1.8 million in revenue for local elementary, high school and junior college districts."

Bohannon spokesman Patrick Courman broke the numbers down like this: One-time impact fees to the Redwood City Elementary School and Sequoia Union School districts of $343,000; then annual revenue of $925,000 for the Redwood City schools, $611,000 for Sequoia, and $266,000 for the San Mateo Community College District.

However, because the state funds Redwood City schools on a revenue-limited, per-student basis, funding from Menlo Gateway property taxes will be offset by a reduction in state money. And "local" doesn't equal "in Menlo Park," although high school students attending out-of-town campuses could benefit.

Per its conditional development permit, the company must provide documentation showing the hotel is designed to meet LEED silver certification, while the office complex is designed to meet gold certification, based on 2009 standards. Deputy City Manager Kent Steffens said the agreement also requires the company to make "good faith efforts" to meet whatever new standards are in effect when it applies for a building permit.

Gateway's environmental consultant Andrea Traber of KEMA outlined several design aspects that incorporate LEED features, such as high-efficiency heating and cooling; insulated windows; and shade-sensitive building orientations. Software models of energy use show "across the board, for all buildings, they perform 23 percent better than the energy code requires," she said.

As for traffic mitigation, the development permit outlines the use of shuttles during rush hour to Menlo Park and Redwood City Caltrain stations. Mr. Bohannon said money has also been set aside to ease the strain on intersections near the project.

Ms. Fry countered by saying Gateway would increase the number of cars from 2,000 to 11,000 at already-congested intersections along Middlefield Road, Bayfront Expressway, University Drive, and Marsh Road. She also suggested the traffic would hinder Belle Haven and Willows residents who don't drive from being able to travel downtown.

In September, a voter survey paid for by Mr. Bohannon showed 68 percent of the 400 participants would probably vote for Measure T. If the measure does win at the ballot box, construction may not start for four to 20 years, according to the developer, depending on when the economy recovers enough to support financing such a large complex. The company will have to pay $300,000 in penalties for delaying construction more than five years. Opponents highlighted the delay as another reason to vote against Measure T, since the estimated 2,300 jobs generated may not appear for years.

Support

All but one of the six Menlo Park City Council candidates endorse Measure T. Educator Chuck Bernstein remains opposed. Other city officials supporting the Gateway Project include Chamber of Commerce CEO Fran Dehn, former mayors Gail Slocum and Dee Tolles, and Belle Haven Homeowners Association President Matt Henry.

Joining Mr. Cohen, Ms. Fry, and Mr. Bernstein in the campaign to defeat Measure T are Planning Commissioner Vince Bressler, Transportation Commissioner Charles Bourne, former mayors Paul Collacchi and Mary Jo Borak. Community activists Morris Brown, Peter Carpenter, and Don Barnby also signed on with the opposition.

Websites

• No on Measure T: Factsnothype.org

• Yes on Measure T: menlogateway.com

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