Who's in charge of downtown development?
Original post made by Renee Batti on Apr 6, 2007
What's wrong with this picture?
A city with an extensive review process -- including professional planners, a citizens Planning Commission and a City Council -- holds numerous, well-covered public hearings over a green "transit-oriented" project proposal which gets approved, but can't be built? The project is dynamic and lovely to look at but is a big change from the (shabby) existing use, and change always upsets someone, sparking emotional reactions. That's where the public process comes in. Or at least is supposed to.
Last fall, a few die-hard Menlo Park no-growthers engineered a carefully worded NIMBY petition ("shouldn't the public have a say in this project?") and thus the City Council was called to take a stand to defend the city's process.
Instead, the council has referred the project -- not to its Planning Commission or even to mediators -- but to the petition writers themselves. These self-appointed fixers have been "negotiating" with the Derry family's builder ever since, behind closed doors.
As a citizen, I am outraged at this handing over to an interest group the most promising land parcels in downtown.
There's nothing new about stage nerves in a big moment, but it is disheartening that our City Council won't stand up for transit-oriented dense housing.
Environmental groups all urge an alternative to quarter-acre suburbia, and the train corridor is the right location. We have an unprecedented four major vacant parcels staring at us, right now, right near the train station. Our supposedly green council should not be hoping for a watered down compromise to make the fixers happy. This isn't somebody else's opportunity to squander.
Henry L. Riggs
Callie Lane, Menlo Park
(Henry Riggs is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.)
on Apr 6, 2007 at 3:12 pm
Mr. Riggs makes some good points, but fails to acknowledge that the project did not adhere to hardly any existing rules of the city. There is a process, called planning, for establishing a vision and supporting rules. This project defied numerous long-standing city rules, used creative counting methods, and then changed the city's ordinance and General Plan on the fly. Seems to me that the city staff and reviewers conveniently overlooked a lot of broken rules in a flawed process, and obtained a public benefit that was a pittance compared to the value of all the special privileges granted the developer.
Frankly, at this time I have a lot more confidence in a group of citizens to negotiate on behalf of residents and the good of the community than I do with city staff or the failed process that produced the project. Can't wait to see what the results will be.
on Apr 6, 2007 at 3:26 pm
If downtown Menlo Park/the train corridor is the best place to put housing, then where do you propose to put retail? You know, the businesses that generate revenue for our city? I realize that high density housing is attractive to developers and to the politicians they subsidize, but most of us would rather not see it occupying "promising land parcels."
Face it, Henry, the planning commission and your old cronies on the council blew the Derry project. Not only was the proposal not aligned with any current zoning ordinances or the general plan, so many people found it offensive that they signed a petition against it. We realize that you think most residents are not nearly as smart as you, but the fact is that it's our city too.
on Apr 6, 2007 at 4:55 pm
Henry, Henry, Henry. Let's just talk about your use of the term NIMBY right now. I'm a NIMBY; I've been called a NIMBY. As it happens, I don't have a back yard. For that matter, I don't have a front yard either. What I do have is a community and a city I really care about. That's my NIMBY. The term "NIMBY" is not a pejorative. It defines an obligation of homeowners seeking to protect their homes and quality of life. What they (we) want, we don't want in your back yard either.
The "few die-hard Menlo Park no-growthers" ("growthers" is not a real word, by the way) that you talk about apparently were sufficient in number to pass a Resolution against this example of high density housing, especially since it violated the zoning ordinances. The last time the Resolution process was successful in our city, it was managed by our present Mayor. Perhaps the term ought to be NIOBY, Not In Our Back Yard!