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Guest opinion: Proposed Stanford development would deepen housing deficit

Original post made on Feb 25, 2013

Stanford's proposed new development on El Camino Real creates even more of a housing deficit for Menlo Park, according to this guest opinion.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, February 24, 2013, 9:18 PM

Comments (8)

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 7:19 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is not the proposed Stanford development that would deepen housing deficit but rather the city's Specific Plan. The proposed development conforms with the Specific Plan. IF the city really wanted more housing in the ECR-SE area then the city would have/should have reflected that desire in the Specific Plan.

Here is what the Specific Plan says about this portion of the zone:

El Camino Real Mixed Use

The El Camino Real Mixed Use designation allows

for a variety of retail, offi ce, residential and public and

semipublic uses. Building character in this land use

designation relates to adjacent neighborhoods, with

maximum building heights of two to three stories, except

for buildings of up to three to four stories (with provision

of public benefi t) on part of northeast El Camino Real,

and buildings of up to four to fi ve stories permitted on

the southeast end of El Camino Real. The allowed

development intensities vary with the lowest intensity

on the far northern end of El Camino Real, moderate

intensities on the southwest end and highest intensities

on the southeast end of El Camino Real, where parcels

are separated from adjacent uses by El Camino Real (to

the west) and the railroad right-of-way (to the east).



Contrast that to the language for the other portions of the Specific Plan near Santa Cruz:

El Camino Real Mixed Use/Residential

The El Camino Real Mixed Use/Residential designation

emphasizes residential use in close proximity

(approximately 1/2 mile) to the station area and downtown,

in order to support area businesses, transit use and overall

downtown vibrancy. This designation also allows for a

variety of retail, offi ce and public and semipublic uses. The

maximum building heights vary from two to three stories in

most locations up to three to four stories (with provision of

public benefi t) on part of northeast El Camino Real and four

to fi ve stories, and the highest intensities, on the east side

of El Camino Real south of Ravenswood Avenue.


Downtown/Station Area Retail/Mixed Use

The Downtown/Station Area Retail/Mixed Use designation

focuses on uses that enhance downtown vibrancy by

building upon existing community-serving retail and

personal services in the downtown area. While emphasizing

retail for ground-fl oor uses, the designation allows for a mix

of uses, including offi ce and residential uses, enhancing

downtown vibrancy through an increased customer base

for restaurants and retail businesses. It also allows for

theaters (commercial recreation), hotels and some public

and semipublic uses. This designation covers the current

public parking plazas, which could accommodate limited

non-parking uses (see Section E.2.3).

To complement the size of existing downtown business

establishments and building character, the size of some

types of businesses are limited (see Section E.2.3), and

allowable building heights are two to three stories for

all but the area in closest proximity to the train station,

where heights of either three to four or four to fi ve stories

are allowed. Allowed intensities in the downtown core

are generally consistent with historic levels while higher

intensities are allowed in the train station area.

Downtown/Station Area "Main Street" Overlay

The Downtown/Station Area "Main Street" Overlay

enhances the retail emphasis of the Downtown/Station

Area Retail/Mixed Use designation by specifi cally limiting

non-retail ground fl oor uses on Santa Cruz Avenue.

Development standards and guidelines otherwise match

the underlying Downtown/Station Area Retail/Mixed Use

designation.

Downtown Adjacent (Offi ce/Residential)

Allowing for offi ce, limited personal services and

residential uses, the Downtown Adjacent Offi ce/Residential

designation complements but does not compete with

retail uses in the downtown area. The category permits

offi ces and personal services (with certain size limitations),

residential uses and public and semipublic uses. It excludes

retail and hotel uses. The allowable building height is two

to three stories, which complements buildings in downtown

and adjacent neighborhoods

******************

In addition the Specific Plan places a higher priority in its public benefit section on housing nearer the train station than it does on housing in the project site:

"a public benefit bonus could be considered for elements including but not limited to:

....

Affordable Residential Units, in particular for lower affordability levels, particularly in areas nearest the station area/downtown" (note that this does NOT include ECR-SE)

************

Again the Specific Plan states:

"One of the best ways to protect existing downtown businesses is to increase the supply of local shoppers by encouraging more residential development in the downtown

and station areas" (note that this does NOT include ECR-SE)

********************************

Clearly housing was much less of a priority for the city in the Mixed Use ECR-SE area that encompasses the proposed project - and that WAS the city's choice.

Lesson - You get what you plan for. Don't blame the developer. The city could have required more housing in the ECR-SE BUT they did not do so.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

IF the city really wants more housing in the ECR-SE area why don't they offer Stanford a variance - if Stanford adds MORE housing to the project then the square footage of that additional housing will not add to their FAR (floor area ratio)?


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Posted by remove office instead
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

Stanford could just remove some office and have plenty of FAR for housing at the Base level. That would be far better than adding traffic-and jobs-generating office.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 10:52 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Stanford could just remove some office and have plenty of FAR for housing at the Base level."

But why would they do that? Their project complies with the zoning as is.

If you want something from someone you have to offer them something - and a few upset residents don't represent much of a problem for a conforming project.


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Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Mr. Carpenter is correct to say that one needs to offer an incentive to the developer, if one is attempting to obtain some adjustments or concessions, particularly, in this case, because the project is in compliance with the City's Specific Plan.
Improving the traffic flow along El Camino is critical and should be addressed immediately. We should not allow this bottle neck to interupt the movement of cars thus encouraging drivers to use side-streets or cut through the neighborhoods. There is no excuse for this negligence! Eliminate the 30 or so parking spaces along the El Camino right away to make it consistent with the rest of the El Camino going through Menlo Park. It would add safety and it isn't difficult or costly.


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Posted by take back our city
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:39 am

I agree with Long time resident about El Camino traffic. I always use side-streets and cut through residential neighborhoods to avoid the two-lane congestion on El Camino.

My understanding of the state housing mandate:

- The state must pay for the housing unless it can come up with a valid reason why it should not. But no local government has challenged this passing the buck down to the cities.

- The law does not require the City or the County to actually build affordable units only to plan for them.

- No one has challenged the State's Dept of Housing and Community Development's (HCD) review of approving housing elements. For example, HCD doesn't allow a city to count existing mobile home park as affordable. Housing vacancies occur normally and are filled but they are not counted by State.

Since the state is dictating these housing units (and residents are losing control of their own cities), Menlo Park should challenge the state and insist that if it wants affordable housing, it should pay for it.


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Posted by willy wonk
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:06 pm

The idea that building a non-residential building "adds to the housing deficit" is an invented concept. Its being picked up by those with a point to make that won't stand on its own. (See last weeks Almanac guest op.)

People, Menlo Park decided what buildings it would allow in the downtown and that included building up to 50% of the square footage as "office" on the six lots that Stanford owns. That ratio would be why something over half their proposal is, ta da! housing. That may not be enough for someone's goals, but its what the city zoned for. So thats 150+ more "housing units" than there were in the car dealerships, or even sporting goods / office supplies mall.

Now, an El Camino choked to two lanes, THATS a problem.


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Posted by blame ABAG
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Yes, the "housing deficit" is an invented concept. However, because it was invented by ABAG, and because Menlo Park has bought into the ABAG numbers, that invention becomes our problem.

Although ABAG is coy about the exact calculations, when a city adds office space, its obligation to add housing increases. Just wait until the Bohannon and Arrillaga projects are built out and we're assigned an addition 10,000 housing units!


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