Almanac

News - May 28, 2014

Menlo Park housing complex previewed

by Sandy Brundage

The Belle Haven neighborhood is seeing an influx of proposed housing complexes, and with a cyber cafe, dog wash and play areas, and "a rather large spa," Greenheart's planned development on Hamilton Avenue looks like it will keep up with the neighbors in terms of creature comforts.

Located near Facebook's upcoming west campus, Greenheart's project will place 195 apartments on 6.5 acres, with an address of 777 Hamilton Ave., about three blocks from Willow Road. The developer bought 21 parcels from numerous property owners, including the city of Menlo Park, during the past two years to create the site.

"We believe this development is a good one for the city as well as the community," Greenheart principal Bob Burke told the Planning Commission during a study session on May 19.

He said that given that the complex's tenants are projected to be working within walking distance, Greenheart expects the location to help minimize traffic impacts by reducing the number of people commuting to work at places such as Facebook.

Zip cars, bike sharing and Facebook's shuttle program are expected to help.

Jeff Adams, speaking on behalf of Facebook, concurred during public comment. "It's important to us that everyone have the opportunity to connect to their community in a meaningful way," he said, and that's easier when home is right across the street from work.

The developer plans to build 117 one-bedroom units, 52 two-bedroom units, and 26 three-bedroom units, divided into three-story stucco buildings.

All of the apartments will be rented at market rate, according to the staff report.

The main entrance to the complex would be off Hamilton Avenue, according to the site plan, with 335 parking spaces provided. Electric cars will have 10 charging stations, with another 50 pre-wired for charging if additional stations are needed in the future, Mr. Burke said.

Trees, always a consideration in Menlo Park, will be well represented, based on the staff report, with 200 new trees slated for planting, including California fan palms. Six heritage trees are marked for removal.

Not everyone is thrilled with the site plan. Belle Haven resident Matt Henry commented during the study session that Facebook is spending millions of dollars to construct its world-class, "work of art" west campus designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

"And what does Greenheart do? They throw up a wall four blocks long of three-story apartments that is going to totally block Belle Haven's view (of the Gehry building)," Mr. Henry said. He suggested placing single-story buildings in front, while limiting higher buildings to the rear of the Hamilton Avenue site.

Later, Greenheart principal Steve Pierce told the commission that the rooftop forest of the Gehry building will be visible from much of Belle Haven, given that it will be 72 feet off the ground, while the Hamilton Avenue apartment buildings will be about 34 feet in height.

One-story buildings were not viable given the amount of parking required for the site as well as the 30 units per acre required by zoning law. "It's all compromises," Mr. Pierce said.

Farther down the road on Haven Avenue, Facebook in partnership with St. Anton is building a 394-unit complex complete with a doggie daycare, pub and bike repair shop. Next door, Greystar LLC has proposed building 146 apartments.

Coupled with Greenheart's proposal, the projects will shift the character of Menlo Park's M-2 district away from an outdated industrial flavor, according to Chamber of Commerce CEO Fran Dehn.

Greenheart said construction is expected to take 18 months. Since the project requires no discretionary approvals, the final determination of whether the site complies with the city's regulations will be made by the community development director rather than the Planning Commission.

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