Almanac

News - August 28, 2013

Menlo Park council OKs Louise St. abandonment

by Sandy Brundage

The fight over Louise Street may head to the courts, which is where some Menlo Park City Council members appear to think it now belongs after efforts at compromise collapsed.

Voting 4-0, with Vice Mayor Ray Mueller recused, the council approved a request by street residents that the city turn over an approximately 53-by-60-foot tangle of greenery in the public right-of-way to adjoining homeowners — a process called abandonment.

"We're delighted the council upheld the rights of Louise Street homeowners. We hope Mr. Sinnott will accept the city's decision — which it reached after three different public meetings — so that he can start building his house at its historical address and location and we wish him well," said Michael Schwarz, a Louise Street resident.

The abandonment agreement includes clauses preserving pedestrian access, preventing future homeowners from building on the space and indemnifying the city against any potential lawsuit. The neighbors would be responsible for any legal costs and damages.

Mayor Peter Ohtaki said he was elected to make policy, not law. "I'm not a judge ... from a policy standpoint I have to look at abandonment as the right way of preserving and balancing value and the general plan."

The council urged both sides to reach a compromise before resorting to the courts, while acknowledging that sorting out the legal property rights issues involved will take an experienced judge.

The Aug. 20 vote marks a likely end to wrangling the issue through the city's processes for developer Sam Sinnott and investment partner Mircea Voskerician. The two men have been trying to build a paved driveway exiting on Louise Street from a property at 1825 Santa Cruz Ave. that they purchased for redevelopment. The exit would have crossed over right-of-way, and possibly bolstered the developer's case for switching the address from Santa Cruz Avenue to Louise Street, which city staff doesn't support.

Staff initially authorized the driveway. The council then voted 3-1 to revoke the approval in the face of protests from Louise Street residents, who said that paving over the green space would damage the character of the neighborhood.

Planning commissioners voted 4-2 in June that abandonment would be consistent with the city's general plan, noting that they weren't voting on the abandonment request itself.

Both sides had asked the council to delay the abandonment hearing from July to August to explore whether a compromise could be reached, but negotiations fell apart.

No word yet from Mr. Sinnott on whether he'll now file a lawsuit.

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