Almanac

Viewpoint - January 23, 2013

Guest opinion: Stanford sticks with its plan for El Camino sites

by Steve Elliott

Last July, the city of Menlo Park approved a comprehensive Downtown/El Camino Real Specific Plan after five years of extensive planning and community outreach. Stanford University participated in and supported this process, in order to get clear direction on what the city was interested in seeing on our El Camino parcels. As noted in a June 24, 2009, Almanac article, Stanford has consistently stated that mixed-use development was appropriate for its properties, including retail, housing, general and medical offices.

All of these uses were thoroughly considered in the Specific Plan. Based on the adopted plan, Stanford began the design of a project to fit within the plan's framework and vision.

Stanford's 500 El Camino Real project meets the principles and goals of the Specific Plan. Our project provides a publicly accessible plaza at Middle Avenue, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a 15-foot wide El Camino promenade, a significant amount of housing, including below-market-rate units, increased open space, provision of east-west connectivity for bicyclists and pedestrians at Middle Avenue, building breaks to reduce building massing, and important sustainable building features.

Based on what we have heard from the Menlo Park community, we have updated our Nov. 6 submittal for the Jan. 28 Planning Commission study session. The updated plan increases the number of housing units and includes bicycle and pedestrian friendly improvements to Middle Plaza.

The city's October 2012 proposed Housing Element designates 65 units for the Stanford sites. Stanford is proposing 135 to 150 units, more than twice as much as the Housing Element anticipates.

There were comments during the public process about a desire for senior housing. Stanford believes the style and size of the rental housing in this project will be attractive to seniors, a pattern seen up and down the Peninsula.

The Almanac's Jan. 2 editorial is not correct in saying that Stanford's project is "focused almost entirely on medical offices." Stanford has limited medical offices to 96,000 square feet, which represents only 21 percent of the project's square footage.

The editorial's claim that the bike/pedestrian tunnel under the railroad tracks "did not materialize" is also not correct. Stanford does not own the land where the Plan proposes this tunnel. However, Stanford has designed its project to provide pedestrians and bicyclists direct access to the tunnel over our property. We support the tunnel as an important improvement to east-west connectivity.

Stanford has long heard Menlo Park's desire to move forward on redevelopment of these long vacant auto dealer sites. The last ground lease on these parcels expires in March 2013 and we are eager to implement a comprehensive, integrated new development that will improve the properties and be a benefit for the community and Stanford.

Steve Elliott is managing director for development, land, buildings and real estate at Stanford University.

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