Guest opinion: Why we need the downtown plan
Have you heard about the draft plan for El Camino Real and downtown? Menlo Park seeks your comments and suggestions to inform our study and decision-making in the months ahead.
The draft plan is the culmination of almost four years of surveys, community workshops, study sessions, and commission hearings. Thousands of residents have participated — weighing in on what they love today about Menlo Park, and what needs improving. Key priorities have emerged:
• Make our city more walkable and bikeable.
• Create new public spaces.
• Enhance downtown's "village" charm.
• Enhance appeal and attractiveness of El Camino Real and downtown.
• Attract more customers to downtown businesses.
• Increase economic activity/vibrancy.
• Increase family-oriented businesses, activities.
• Create a blueprint for future development.
What's most important to me about the draft plan is that it allows the people that care most about Menlo Park to shape our future instead of out-of-town developers that may not have our best interests at heart.
Today's zoning ordinance is geared to the old days when Menlo Park was mostly used car lots, gas stations, and auto repair shops. Therefore, developers apply for one-off projects asking for large height and size exemptions.
Some aspects of their plans might make sense — like condos near the train station, more cafes and plazas — but are the projects too big, too small, or just right? Are there enough public benefits like wide sidewalks and public spaces?
No city council should make such important decisions on a piece-meal basis. We need a community-driven plan as a blueprint.
Without a plan, developers have the upper hand. But having a plan in place puts the city in an excellent position to enforce public benefits and strong neighborhood protections. We fill empty storefronts with hometown businesses we want.
The draft plan has been available for review and comments for about six months. It provides a good foundation, but still needs work to become the great plan we deserve.
One point of lively discussion is the idea of parking garages — one near the post office and one behind Flegels. Today people complain about employee parking clogging the parking plazas. Moving employee parking into garages would free up surface parking for patrons closest to stores.
If parking garages were ever built, a few things are certain: They would need to be aesthetically pleasing, compatible with existing architecture, and be easily accessible.
Another point of discussion is whether the plan would somehow harm the Sunday Farmers' Market. Claims that the City Council is poised to adopt a plan that would harm the Farmers' Market ignore the careful and inclusive community process that is under way.
I am committed to working with the Lions Club volunteers, who run the Farmers Market, on every detail so the plan truly enhances the market or leaves it as-is.
The City Council will be discussing the draft plan and public comments at meetings in the coming months. We look forward to working with the public and making this plan the best it can possibly be.
Kelly Fergusson is a member of the Menlo Park City Council
(An electronic version of the draft plan is available at menlopark.org/projects/comdev_ecrdowntown.htm. Hardcopies are available at City Hall. Contact Thomas Rogers at 330-6722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)