Of course, the Downtown Specific Plan was never going to please everybody (nothing in Menlo can do that). Still, it's disappointing that the familiar, vocal few who don't like the results of five years of community discussion would rather hire lawyers than see the plan go forward with best wishes.
I think of all the residents who attended the workshops, trudged around downtown with the planners, attended the speaker series and spoke (and listened to others) at the many, many, detailed public hearings. It's not easy to come to consensus in an educated and outspoken town like ours, yet we got there — consensus being a collective opinion where the dissenting minority gains respect, if not agreement, with the majority. It took five years and many thousands of volunteer hours.
Most disappointing is that there will be costs to all of us to defend the plan against these legal maneuvers. And why? Those who claim to represent the shop owners say they "haven't been heard," yet the plan was revised for every comment the merchant leaders made — to the credit of everyone involved, in my view: Loss of parking for improved sidewalks, scaled back. Housing above potential parking structures, ruled out. Allowed height of parking structures, reduced to match adjacent buildings. Optional location for the parking structure, added. Small park areas to pause for a moment, now subject to trial installation and merchant review. Two covered areas and a "paseo" to supplement the farmers market, subject to trial installation and farmers market review. Buildings on Santa Cruz Avenue can be all of 12 percent bigger than current rules — and that only through a public hearing. In fact the only allowances for tall buildings were carefully located on El Camino, away from existing residences.
I've spoken with developers who also live in Menlo Park. They worry that the carefully fussed and compromised zoning changes are not enough to entice investment in old buildings and vacant lots; two friends in Linfield Oaks worry that it's too much enticement. And yet, both sides are willing to see, and hope, that it will work. Something has to.
Change isn't easy, especially for those who have not seen it for five decades. There were cries of doom when the Keplers/Borrone building was proposed, when the Stacks building was proposed, and of course the Derry project was killed outright (and remains a derelict site today).
This zoning update called the Specific Plan goes to council on June 5. In the next few weeks, our council can adopt these painstakingly vetted new rules and, with luck, investment will return to Menlo Park's downtown.
Henry Riggs is a planning commissioner who lives on Callie Lane in Menlo Park.