Almanac

Viewpoint - August 21, 2013

Guest opinion: Specific Plan flawed; needs to be revised

by Steve Schmidt

For the benefit of Old Timers and others: While I agree with some of SaveMenlo's objections to the Specific Plan and to Stanford's El Camino development proposal, I have chosen to step aside and wait for the group to get up to speed on the complicated land use issues raised by the Stanford proposal.

After 10 months of digging through the record, obtaining staff emails and communications with Stanford, many meetings and discussions, it appears that SaveMenlo now understands when and where the real mistakes were made in approving the Specific Plan.

There were elements of the Specific Plan, such as project vehicular access through the Middle Avenue Plaza, reduction of open space requirements from 40 percent to 30 percent, definition of private balconies as open space, elimination of publicly accessible building breaks, that were initiated by Stanford and/or city staff. In some instances, these additions were made without direction from or knowledge of the City Council.

The key to fixing these mistakes is to revise one key aspect of the Specific Plan: reduce the base level Floor Area Ratio (making development less dense) in the El Camino Real SE Zone to 0.75 so that these and other defects can be repaired. The increase of the Floor Area Ratio on El Camino Real (making it more dense and more advantageous to the developer) has given Stanford an increased value to its property that will bring somewhere near an additional $5 million per year in rental income for the life of the buildings. Menlo Park received no public benefits for this gift. That Stanford is finally clearing out the blight left by its negligence cannot be considered anything more than the university's civic duty.

The city appears to be already negotiating with Stanford but not with any of the neighborhood representatives at the table.

SaveMenlo should be commended for its role as messenger. Despite the discomfort of the message, the Specific Plan is flawed and needs to be reviewed and revised. A one-year review was approved by the council on June 5, 2012. The Specific Plan was adopted in July of 2012. It's time.

Steve Schmidt is a former Menlo Park mayor.

Comments

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Well said Steve. I wonder what the intention is of the Mayor and the Sub-Committee is.

Appointing a subcommittee rather than addressing the real issues of the Downtown Specific Plan is akin to thumbing your noses at residents of Menlo Park while kissing the hand of the developer who put his name on the gym.

I'd be happy to underwrite a building in exchange for being able to put an apartment complex on my single-family-home-zoned lot. Neighbors would not be able to do a thing because you eliminated public process in the Specific Plan. Oh, wait, they could have a say in the "architectural review" of the massive apartment building I'm building next to their homes.

Again, I ask you to do better for the residents of Menlo Park. Fix the plan


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 20, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Specific Plan rationale for the current FARs is stated as follows:

"The Specific Plan places the highest intensity of

development around the train station, consistent with goals

mentioned in the paragraph above. It also focuses higher

development intensities on the parcels on the east side

of El Camino Real south of Ravenswood Avenue. These

larger parcels can accommodate more development, and

they are isolated from adjacent residential neighborhoods

by El Camino Real to the west and the railroad tracks

and Alma Street to the east."

Note that the FAR in ECR-NE is 1.10 and in 2.00 in Downtown - it is hard to see how an FAR of 0.75 for ECR-SE could be logically justified except as a selective downzoning of Stanford properties.


Posted by time for review, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:46 am

Since when did a year become more than 12 months? The Council decided to revisit key elements of the Specific Plan in 12 months. Among those is the trigger point for a negotiated public benefit. Thanks to Steve's research, we know there are other reasons to revisit the Plan.

When they set the trigger point, the council relied on market information that is no longer valid. To lower the trigger point isn't downzoning at all; the maximum remains. This should be done along El Camino, not just the southeast area to be fair. It would be totally unfair to other property owners to conduct the review after approving the Stanford project.


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