Almanac

News - October 27, 2010

Menlo council's interminable plans for Terminal Avenue property

• Parcel's fate rests with new subcommittee.

by Sandy Brundage

Twenty-two Habitat for Humanity homes, or 1.5 acres for Beechwood School? That's the question the Menlo Park City Council debated at its Oct. 19 meeting, and in the end, the council members agreed to let a new subcommittee answer it.

Habitat for Humanity has wanted to build the homes since 2001, but community opposition has kept the program waiting. Now, nine years later, so much time has passed that the nonprofit wants to pull the plug altogether.

"We need to either fish or cut bait here," Phillip Kilbridge, executive director of the nonprofit's San Francisco branch, told the council. "We're asking for your direction. Lacking it, and no offense to any of you, we will have to move on and work with Menlo Park on the next opportunity."

The Belle Haven community would be happy to see the school buy the land, according to neighborhood association president Matt Henry. "Why would Habitat for Humanity continually push to bring housing here when the community for like 10 years has said we don't really want it? It's like you come in and try to shove it down our throats," he said during the council meeting.

"We think education is more important," Mr. Henry said. "If Beechwood could get all of this property, and it doesn't cost an arm and leg, that would be ideal for our community. Education is important on one side of town, seems like it's not important on the other side of town."

The council, however, wasn't happy with the price the school is willing to pay for the parcel, about $600,000 less than what the city estimates as fair market value, according to Mayor Rich Cline.

"Terminal Avenue is terminally ill," Mr. Cline said, expressing skepticism that the Habitat for Humanity plan could survive neighborhood protest.

The City Council and Housing Commission have struggled with where to build affordable housing in Menlo Park. Of the city's 57 below-market-rate units, 20 are located in a mixed-income housing development in Belle Haven.

Council members Kelly Fergusson and Heyward Robinson volunteered to serve on the subcommittee. Mr. Robinson suggested that having City Council participate in negotiations would finally bring plans for the parcel to fruition.

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