Almanac

News - June 18, 2014

Greenheart complex moves into environmental review

by Sandy Brundage

Greenheart Land Company is commencing the next phase of the environmental review of its proposed 420,000-square-foot mixed-use complex, located within the specific plan's boundaries at 1300 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.

Although the specific plan came with its own environmental impact review, according to the city's planning staff, Greenheart's project has some features that require a more in-depth, project-level analysis, such as the fact that separate developments had previously been put forward for some of the parcels now merged into Greenheart's project.

At one point, the Derry project was proposed, but that fell apart after delays and negotiations in the face of community opposition led to financing difficulties for the developer.

Greenheart is planning to build two three-story buildings with 210,000 square feet of office space, and up to 216 apartments on its nearly 7-acre site, with 16,000 square feet of retail incorporated into the commercial buildings and 7,000 square feet in the residential. Ninety-five percent of the on-site parking would be provided by an underground garage with entrances off El Camino Real and Garwood Way.

The company is aiming to provide public benefits in exchange for building to the bonus level of allowed floor area ratio at 150 percent, rather than the 110 percent, to let the two office buildings go up to 48 feet, with the top stories set back.

The proposal also includes renovating Garwood Way and creating a bicycle/pedestrian path to connect with the Caltrain station on Merrill Street.

The project's proximity to the Caltrain station should help decrease the number of car trips, and 95 percent of the on-site parking will be provided by an underground garage.

Whether those plans will have to change won't be known until the November election, when an initiative proposed by grassroots coalition Save Menlo is likely to go on the ballot. The initiative, among other changes, would cap office space at 100,000 square feet per project, cutting by about 50 percent the amount allowed to be built within Greenheart's mixed-use complex.

Company representative Bob Burke said that while Greenheart believes the initiative will go on the ballot, the company cannot assume that it will win, and indeed, hopes that Menlo Park voters defeat it.

"We believe the initiative has major flaws with multiple unfortunate consequences, namely that Menlo Park residents will miss the opportunity to achieve the full vibrancy of the downtown, as well as lose much-needed revenue for the schools and the city that would result from development in accordance with the downtown specific plan, which was adopted as part of a thorough, transparent, and deliberative six year process," Mr. Burke said.

Rather than wait to see how things turn out, the company has decided to move ahead and pay for the environmental review. "We do not believe it is in Greenheart's or the city's best interest to freeze the entitlement process now because a group of neighbors is dissatisfied with the outcome of a fully vetted, public planning process," he said.

The council was scheduled to hear an informational-only update that the review process was continuing during its June 17 meeting, after the Almanac's deadline. At this stage, no action will be taken regarding any type of project approvals; the city is preparing to determine the scope of the review.

"Detailed project review likely isn't happening until 2015, in any event," said Thomas Rogers, senior planner for Menlo Park.

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