http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2013/08/14/battle-over-stanford-mixed-use-project-heats-up-in-menlo-park


Almanac

News - August 14, 2013

Battle over Stanford mixed-use project heats up in Menlo Park

by Sandy Brundage

Even as Stanford confirms that it has agreed to make changes to its proposed eight-acre complex on El Camino Real, according to a university spokesperson, Menlo Park residents report that the university has conducted a telephone poll to gauge support for the project and a grassroots coalition has raised thousands of dollars to pay for lawyers to fight the development.

The latest proposal eliminates all medical office space. The university has also agreed to help fund a pedestrian-bike crossing at Middle Avenue to pass under the railroad tracks, work with Menlo Park to design a plaza and vehicular access to the complex, and pay for a neighborhood cut-through traffic study with parameters set by the city, according to the subcommittee, which consists of council members Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton.

"We are negotiating to make this the best project that it can be. I look forward to continued revisions to improve the project," Councilwoman Keith told the Almanac on Aug. 5.

The subcommittee has been meeting with city staff, representatives of Save Menlo, the coalition organized to oppose the eight-acre mixed-use development, and other neighborhood representatives.

A joint endeavor between Stanford and developer John Arrillaga, the project is proposed under the regulations implemented by the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan.

The plan is to 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. There would be a public plaza at Middle Avenue with two car lanes, along with a pedestrian and bicycle path from El Camino Real to the future undercrossing.

The amount Stanford will chip in for the undercrossing remains to be determined; the goal is to make sure there's enough funding to build it in a timely manner, the subcommittee said. City staff did not yet have an estimate of construction costs.

Save Menlo has publicly stated that it wants zero medical office space and a smaller overall project. While not all residents object to the development, last week's announcement left the coalition's members dissatisfied, to say the least.

"I am shocked that the subcommittee is reporting on these Stanford Proposals prior to any discussion of them with the Neighborhood representatives. How can negotiations take place when they are usurped midstream," George Fisher, the group's liaison to the subcommittee, wrote in an email to the council.

"I am very disappointed and want to be sure you all understand that I feel personally taken advantage of and civically ashamed that the needs of the greater Menlo Park community have been unduly sacrificed. In short, I feel 'sold out' by the very people I am trying to help, without the courtesy of being allowed to comment or even being informed of the suggestions."

Save Menlo spokeswoman Perla Ni said they believe the university "is politically and unduly influencing the city to fast-track the development so that they can get vested rights and to delay the review of the Specific Plan."

Ms. Ni said the overall size of the complex has not changed, which will still contribute to traffic and housing problems without bringing much benefit to Menlo Park.

The group aims to raise $7,500 by Aug. 15 to pay for the cost of retaining Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, a law firm specializing in land-use issues. Donors had chipped in $4,700 by the Almanac's deadline. Save Menlo has also asked for volunteers to create street-level drawings of the proposed complex, review alternative proposals and conduct further research.

In the meantime, Menlo Park residents told the Almanac they have been getting phone calls conducting a poll on behalf of Stanford that reportedly asked about the university's contribution to the community, aspects of the proposed mixed-use development such as size, and whether the university is a good neighbor.

The council will start reviewing the specific plan in September, according to city staff, to give the subcommittee time to finish its work.

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