Almanac

News - May 8, 2013

Menlo Park commission backs housing plan update, with changes

by Sandy Brundage

Menlo Park got a step closer to updating its housing plan on April 29 after the Planning Commission recommended rezoning four sites as potential locations for high-density housing development.

The sites are:

• Gateway Apartments at two locations: the 1200 block of Willow Road and the 1300 block of Willow Road. Both sites are owned by the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition (78 units total).

• Hamilton Avenue East located in the 700 and 800 blocks of Hamilton Avenue (216 units).

• A site in the 3600 block of Haven Avenue (540 units).

A fifth site, which could provide 60 units on the Department of Veterans Affairs campus in the 700 block of Willow Road, is also on the list, but does not require rezoning as part of the housing plan update.

The update is a part of a lawsuit settlement over the city's failure to comply with state housing law for the past 10 years.

To catch up, Menlo Park has identified sites where zoning changes could allow construction of about 900 new housing units, with 454 units dedicated to affordable housing. The settlement also requires the city to provide zoning incentives for developers to build affordable housing, including within the new downtown/El Camino Real specific plan. That doesn't mean the units will appear, however.

A developer could still decide to forgo any added benefits by choosing not to build affordable units, City Attorney Bill McClure said. "Unless (a developer) includes affordable housing, it doesn't give him anything."

Menlo Park has also proposed allowing the construction of secondary, or granny, units. The Planning Commission discussed several design points, such as the number of bedrooms allowed, wall heights and minimum yard size, and the city may decide to re-evaluate the standards after 10 granny units have been built.

Traffic management

The Haven Avenue properties in particular led the commissioners to focus on how to make the new housing developments on the east side of the city feel like part of Menlo Park.

"I think the city needs to accept responsibility for helping the Haven properties integrate better," including through better community coordination of public transit, Vice Chair John Kadvany said.

The commission voted unanimously to include a policy directive in its recommendations to the City Council to support the formation of a transportation management association (TMA), which would help people living in the Haven properties get to their jobs and downtown.

Mr. Kadvany told the Almanac that if the city transportation department is "transportation hardware," then the association is the "transportation software," coordinating all transportation modes from pedestrian to bike to shuttles and all public transportation, but focused on the Bayfront area and its emerging housing and office spaces.

Adina Levin, a new member of the Transportation Commission, said San Mateo and Mountain View have recently set up similar associations.

"Interestingly, both of these descend from the same highly successful TMA in Emeryville that was started in the mid-90s," she said. "It started with a single shuttle route serving an office development, and grew to provide 1.4 million shuttle trips per year connecting to BART and local shopping." The same people who set up the Emeryville program are working on the San Mateo and Mountain View counterparts as well, she said.

A transportation management association can reduce vehicle trips for large employers such as Facebook, but also for residential developments and small businesses, according to Ms. Levin.

Planning Commission members say they hope to see a Menlo Park association created in 2014. Whether that would be as a new division of the city's transportation department or an autonomous entity remains to be determined. The City Council will have a chance to comment on the proposal when it reviews the housing element update on May 21.

Go to tinyurl.com/MP-HEU to review staff reports and other associated documents for the housing update on the city's website.

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