At the outset, City Manager Alex McIntyre admitted Menlo Park was 10 years behind in updating its housing element. During an intensive process, the city held hearings to review numerous sites. In some cases, neighbors convinced city officials to remove potential sites, in Sharon Heights and Linfield Oaks, for example, from the list.
The City Council and Planning Commission are moving toward adopting the updated housing plan in early summer, which will likely rezone five sites for development as housing. Among the site finalists is one on Haven Avenue northwest of Marsh Road, with proposed zoning to allow up to 540 housing units. Another, on Hamilton Avenue off Willow Road, had previously been identified for affordable housing and could accommodate 216 units. Two of the remaining sites are on Willow Road between Bayfront Expressway and U.S. 101, and the fifth is on Willow off the freeway.
When the process began, the city was under orders to find 1,975 units, but after deducting new housing built after 1998, brought the total down to approximately 900 units. The new zones must include a mix of market-rate and moderate-, low- and very-low income units, with affordable housing on sites zoned for at least 30 units per acre.
It's easy to understand why a city like Menlo Park, which is close to being totally built-out, has a hard time finding locations for dense housing in neighborhoods where many homes are valued at more than $1 million. But the city does have pockets of apartment buildings in numerous locations that could support infill development, including downtown south of Menlo Avenue, Linfield Oaks and Sharon Heights.
So despite what first appeared to be an impossible mountain to climb in a short amount of time, Menlo Park has managed to identify sites for new housing — but the process is not over. After the conclusion of this update, the city will immediately need to start planning how to meet the next quota assigned by the state.
Studies have shown that 17,000 workers commute into the city every day. Whether a developer will step forward to actually build homes on sites newly rezoned by the council is anybody's guess, but given the number of potential buyers or renters who want to live here, it just might happen.
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