Almanac

News - September 4, 2013

Menlo Park set to review specific plan

by Sandy Brundage

Menlo Park's new specific plan, approved last year, has come under fire for allowing a proposed eight-acre mixed-use complex to be built along El Camino Real, the city's main corridor without requiring any public benefits.

The city is now preparing to take a second look at the specific plan to see whether modifications are necessary. The Planning Commission will review the plan on Sept. 9, then pass any recommendations along to the City Council.

Any modifications made to the specific plan will affect the Stanford Arrillaga project, the proposed eight-acre mixed use complex, which is not expected to be formally submitted to the city for six months to a year, according to Steve Elliott, the university's managing director for real estate.

Meanwhile, the Menlo Park City Council subcommittee on the Stanford Arrillaga project has finished its work, but it's still only a good starting point, the council noted on Aug. 27.

"This is a long process. It's not quick," said Councilwoman Kirsten Keith.

The two council representatives on the subcommittee, Ms. Keith and Catherine Carlton, said they held 18 meetings during the past five months with various groups affected by the proposed project, including neighborhood representatives, city staff and Stanford.

In response to feedback presented by the subcommittee, the university agreed to make several changes to the project, such as eliminating all medical office space. The latest design for the Stanford Arrillaga complex would replace mostly vacant car lots along 300 to 500 El Camino Real with 199,500 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, and up to 170 apartments.

Mr. Elliott said on Tuesday night that the square footage of the apartments was larger than any other portion of the project.

A public plaza at Middle Avenue would incorporate two car lanes, along with a pedestrian and bicycle path at Middle Avenue and El Camino Real to a future railroad track undercrossing.

"I think there are more ways we can improve (the plaza)," Mr. Elliott said. "... We heard loud and clear there were significant expectations on this plaza that a lot of people in the community didn't feel were met."

About 23 speakers at the Aug. 27 council meeting made it clear that the revised design still raises serious concerns, particularly in regards to traffic. Save Menlo, a grassroots coalition organized to oppose the original design of the complex, emailed the council shortly before the meeting began to say that it would take action to put the project on the ballot for voter approval should the council allow the development to move forward.

"We're not anti-development. We're reasonable development," said Save Menlo spokesperson Perla Ni.

Other concerns brought up at the meeting included the possibility that the complex would create more jobs than housing, leaving Menlo Park further behind in its attempts to meet state housing quotas.

Several speakers also said that they felt left out of the subcommittee discussions and had expected to be able to sit down with Stanford themselves.

"I believe the subcommittee has not finished its job," said George Fisher, who served as a neighborhood and Save Menlo representative on the panel. He had wanted to present a list of concerns directly to Stanford, he said.

Council members and staff emphasized that no project was on the table for approval yet.

The council voted 4-0 to begin a study to evaluate cut-through traffic in neighborhoods near the project as well as along El Camino Real.

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