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Letter: Frustrated By Menlo Blight & Downtown Vibrancy

Original post made by 20 Frustrated Residents on Jun 19, 2014

Menlo Park deserves better. We are writing as concerned citizens of Menlo Park frustrated by the continued blight on El Camino Real and it's impediment to increased vibrancy of our downtown area. This blight of our downtown deprives our community of a vibrant central gathering place, as well as additional tax revenue to support our schools, fire district and other civic benefits.

The Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP), which included 6 years of very open public participation and environmental impact analysis, was approved by the City Council as a framework for thoughtful development and improvement of these blighted areas. A small group of residents seek to derail the approved DTSP plan by way of a deeply flawed initiative, without any transparency or involvement from the City's decision-makers or the community at large.

In 2006, Council approved a development plan for the north end of El Camino. A small group of neighbors drafted a petition calling to overturn that council approval, again in private and without any involvement from Council or Planning Commission.

Nearly eight years have passed and we still have that land sitting empty and blighted. Had the original project been built, our community stood to collect millions of dollars in taxes and fees and contributions to the below-market-rate housing stock. The people living/working there would be spending money in our downtown, helping our small business owners, creating vibrancy, and generating additional sales tax revenue, jobs, and other benefits.

We hoped the very open, very public DTSP process would finally rid our city of this blight. Sadly, it looks like 2014 might be "déjà vu all over again." Menlo Park deserves better.


Signed,


Jason Pfannenstiel
Charlotte Pfannenstiel
Eric Alburger
Brian O'malley
Andrew Arata
Jeff Brunello
Stephanie Alburger
Ben Paul
Krista Skehan
Jenna Parker
Ryan Baker
Tucker Beim
Dan Skehan
Anne Anderson
Mike Courson
Michael Burke
Meredith O'malley
Corrine Burke
Chris Parker
Nathan Anderson


Comments (23)

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 19, 2014 at 7:25 am

Nice to see there are people in this town that actually understand what the DSP does and doesn't do and the incredible damage the Lanza/Fry initiative has done and will do if passed.


Posted by fact checker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 7:37 am

There has been an approved project at 1300 El Camino for a number of years, pre-dating the approval of the DTSP. It would have added retail and some office, not huge offices and no promise of any retail or restaurants.

Now that the economy has turned around, other projects that were approved in the pre-SP timeframe have been recently constructed. Those used the pre-DTSP rules, too. The initiative's limits have no effect on smaller lots.

It is not the initiative's fault that projects aren't built.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 8:04 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The initiative's limits have no effect on smaller lots. "

Wrong. The initiative, perhaps unintentionally, reduces the rebuildable footprint of small parcels on ECR by about 30% - making then virtually infeasible to rebuild.


Posted by fact checker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

explain how the footprint gets reduced.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 9:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Lanza/Fry initiative definitions of open space will preclude many small sites from rebuilding to their property line (which is how those sites are currently built).


Posted by fact checker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:15 am

Still confusing. The initiative doesn't change DTSP setback requirements for properties currently built to the property line.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

But complying with the new open space definitions in the initiative does require different setbacks from the property line - an unintended consequence but one that will really hurt the future value of small properties.

Section E.3.6 of the Specific Plan requires 30% open space for all developments.

The Lanza/Fry initiative requires that that open space be at ground level:
"Open space greater than 4 feet in height, whether associated with
upper story balconies, patios or roof decks, or atop a podium, if
provided, shall not count toward the minimum open space
requirement for proposed development."

The net result is a 30% reduction in the ground level footprint of a small parcel that previously could be built to the lot line.

This is what happens when amateurs try to concoct a zoning ordinance. And who know what else is buried in these 12 pages - not even the authors know.


Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Peter, are you absolutely certain the initiative open space amendments affect "all developments"? In reading section 3.2 of the measure it appears to be limited to "Residential developments or Mixed Use developments with residential use" (3.2.4) and "Residential open space" (3.2.5, 3.2.6). What's more, the definitions and constraints include both common and private open space, so whence did you come by this 30% figure?

I don't know how many "small property" owners aspire to mixed-use or residential redevelopment within the DSP area but I imagine the number is small. Has a single affected property owner expressed a concern about the change to open space definitions? I haven't seen those concerns articulated in this forum or in email to our City Council, as one data point. In truth, I suspect this to be yet another Peter Carpenter red herring and will be surprised if the practical realities of the open space change affect more than a few of the larger properties up for redevelopment. Peter will disagree, of course.

Gern


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Gern - please do your homework.

Section E.3.6 of the Specific Plan requires 30% open space for ALL developments on ECR.

Table E-6 and other ECR tables clearly state "Open space All development 30% minimum"

Section 3.2 of the initiative applies to ALL open space definitions.
"The foregoing definition is hereby amended, restated and adopted by the voters to instead
read: "The portion of the building site that is open, unobstructed
and unoccupied, and otherwise preserved from development, and
used for public or private use, including plazas, parks, walkways,
landscaping, patios, balconies, and roof decks. It is inclusive of
Common Outdoor Open Space, Private Open Space and Public
Open Space as defined in this glossary. Open space up to 4
feet inheight associated with ground floor level development or atop a
podium up to 4 feet high, if provided, shall count toward the
minimum open space requirement for proposed development."


Feel free to PROVE otherwise.

Clearly the initiative is fatally flawed and you do not even understand the initiative.

This is what happens when amateurs try to write zoning ordinances.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Gern - when are YOU going to start doing your own homework AND answering all the questions that YOU have been asked?


Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

"Section E.3.6 of the Specific Plan requires 30% open space for ALL developments on ECR."

Wrong, Peter. Section "E.3.6 Open Space" on page 165/E35 of the final DSP makes no mention of this requirement. I checked before making my previous comment, and didn't realize the information was buried in supplementary Zoning District tables many pages later.

"Table E-6 and other ECR tables clearly state 'Open space All development 30% minimum'"

Let's be completely honest, Peter: Of the ten DSP zoning districts three require the 30% minimum open space, three require a 20% minimum, one requires a mix of 30% and 20%, and three have no open space requirement whatsoever ("Not Applicable" per the DSP). Three of the districts adjoining ECR specify the 20% minimum so your statement that "the Specific Plan requires 30% open space for ALL developments on ECR" is patently false.

And given that the initiative preserves private open space in the mix I'd like to see a practical example where the change to the open space designation undermines the value of someone's property. I don't deny that this change will have some development impacts, but whatever those as-yet unknown impacts are they will likely be less deleterious to Menlo Park than will bookending our town with 800,000 square feet of new development on El Camino Real.

Gern


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 20, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Gern:

the passage of the initiative will have many unintended consequences. these things always do. I hope you like looking at vacant lots as that's what you'll be looking at on the Stanford property for a long time if the initiative passes. Greenheart is moving forward hoping the Lanza/Fry initiative won't pass. Stanford has erected permanent fencing around their property. What does that tell you? Think maybe Stanford would rather let the property sit than deal with a town in which "yes" doesn't actually mean yes?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Gern - congratulations. You have actually done some homework and discovered that the DSP has appendices.

What % of the properties fronting on ECR have open space requirements?

And won't the Lanza/Fry initiative's open space definitions restrict the ground floor footprint of all of those properties?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 7:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What % of the properties fronting on ECR have open space requirements?"

100% have open space requirements.

"And won't the Lanza/Fry initiative's open space definitions restrict the ground floor footprint of all of those properties?"

Yes, the Lanza/Fry initiative would reduce the ground floor footprint for the replacement of every one of these properties by 20-30% due to the initiative's poorly worded definition of open space. Even a building which is destroyed by fire or earthquake will not be able to be rebuilt with its existing footprint.


Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 21, 2014 at 7:49 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

The other consequence is that even if the city council wanted to give a hardship "override" to a small property owner, they are prohibited from doing so, and the CITY would be required to put it on the ballot. The CITY would PAY for that since it is planning/zoning requirement.

The cost on a per property basis is OUTRAGEOUS.

Our elected officials would be powerless to make well thought out changes, which is normal in ongoing operation of a city such as Menlo Park.

This initiative NEEDS to be defeated in November for the long-term viability of our great city


Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 21, 2014 at 11:11 am

Gern is a registered user.

"What % of the properties fronting on ECR have open space requirements? 100% have open space requirements."

Peter boldly answers his own restated question. Incorrectly, it would seem. Kindly direct your attention to page 216/E86 of the final DSP, wherein the Open Space requirement for the Station Area West district, which fronts El Camino between Oak Grove and Menlo Avenues, is listed as "Not applicable" in the table.

If the real concern here is for the small property owner, as Peter claims elsewhere, one typically with an older single- or two-story structure in the DSP area, then, for that percentage of owners who plan to redevelop their properties in the coming 28 years, the combination of building up and including private open space in the ground floor open space requirement should offset to some degree a possible loss to the footprint area. Note also that many of the older structures on smaller properties in the DSP area don't appear to be maximizing their available footprint, so rebuilding in the event of a catastrophe might require little or no change to the that footprint.

It will be interesting to learn what the consultant has to say about the initiative's open space change, but the reading I've done leads me to believe the Chicken Little response by the few in this forum with a clear bias is unwarranted -- a similar level of concern from actual property owners has thus far been absent.

Gern


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 11:23 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Gern - you need to learn to read the fine print:

Development Standards for Station Area West (SA W) District:
Open space -
Development that includes residential - Minimum of 100 square feet of open space per unit shall be created as common open space or minimum of 80 square feet of open space per unit shall be created as private open space.

*******
Note that many of the existing uses in that zone include residential.

************
" Note also that many of the older structures on smaller properties in the DSP area don't appear to be maximizing their available footprint,"

Wrong - most of the smaller parcels are built out to their lot lines.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I doing this research I discovered that the term "open space" occurs over 100 times in the SDP. And now the Lanza/Fry initiative wants to redefine that term - without even beginning to understand and appreciate the consequences of such a massive redefinition. Who knows what all those consequences might be?


Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Gern is a registered user.

"Note that many of the existing uses in that zone include residential."

Your claim is that the Station Area West District includes many existing residential uses!? Where, specifically, are these residential units hiding between El Camino/Maloney/Doyle and Oak Grove/Menlo Avenues? The DSP summary of the district, had you bothered to read it -- to "do your homework" -- states very clearly, "The SA W District is characterized by a mix of retail and service uses." Anyone having even a passing familiarity with our downtown would know that, though perhaps it is less obvious when one's exposure is limited to Google Street Viewing from the relative comfort and isolation of a Lindenwood easy chair.

"Wrong - most of the smaller parcels are built out to their lot lines."

Have you spent any time at all in Menlo Park within the DSP area other than on El Camino Real and Santa Cruz Avenue? East of the train station, say, or north of Santa Cruz Avenue? My statement stands that "many [not most] of the older structures on smaller properties in the DSP area don't appear to be maximizing their available footprint." Many of these properties, if redeveloped with underground parking, might very well recover more than their current footprint, even with a 20-30% open space requirement.

For someone who purportedly drops 90% of his local expenditures in Menlo Park you appear to know very little about the DSP area, Peter.

Gern


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I doing this research I discovered that the term "open space" occurs over 100 times in the SDP."

Wrong - I just downloaded a neat new software that actually counts the occurrences of a phrase. The phrase "open space" appears 290 times in the DSP - and now Lanza/Fry want to refine "open space" as used in the DSP.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Gern - Once again you don't pay attention to the words; here is what the DSP states:

"The District is located in the Downtown/Station Area
Retail - Mixed Use and Downtown/Station Area "Main
Street" Overlay land use designations which emphasize
community-serving retail and personal services at the
ground-fl oor level and residential/offi ce uses above. The
district provides for higher intensities with a focus on
residential development given its location at the train
station area and downtown."

Gern - Did you miss "with a focus on residential development given its location at the train
station area and downtown."?


Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Gern is a registered user.

"Gern - Did you miss 'with a focus on residential development given its location at the train
station area and downtown.'?"

No, I didn't miss that, Peter -- the focus on mixed-use development including residential appears as boilerplate in the land use designation for every district, understandably. As it happens there is little or no existing residential use in the Station Area West District, a fact with which you were completely unfamiliar just a few hours ago, likely because you've never or only rarely visited the area in question. But if there's another way to interpret "Note that many of the existing uses in that zone include residential," please let me know.

Now, if a property owner in the Station Area West District decides to rebuild a retail, office, or mixed-use project without residential his open space commitment will be, what, zero? How does that jibe with your proclamation, Peter, that "100% have open space requirements"? It's an honest question.

Gern


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have walked EVERY street in the DSP, talked to most of the merchants, served as a planning commissioner and been elected three times to represent the voters of Menlo Park as a Director of the Fire District and I have post in my own name on this forum - I challenge ANY Lanza/Fry supporter to meet the same standard.


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