Menlo council supports five housing sites
Menlo Park's race to identify potential sites for new housing moved forward on March 12 as all five council members supported staff's selection of five out of 14 sites for rezoning.
State law requires cities to assess and plan to meet their fair share of regional housing needs, which includes affordable housing, every seven years. Menlo Park hasn't met the state requirements since 1992.
As part of a lawsuit settlement for noncompliance, the city now needs to finalize by May a selection of sites where zoning changes would allow a maximum of 900 housing units to be built. While the city is not required to actually build the units, it must provide incentives for developers to do so, according to the settlement.
The sites must include high-density zones — defined as 30 units per acre — for affordable housing. Once that's done, Menlo Park will then need to start hunting for new sites to comply with the next update cycle.
The five sites for this cycle tend to lie toward east Menlo Park — a fact that did not escape comment during the March 12 meeting.
"I'm really concerned about some of the selections," said Belle Haven resident Vicky Roblede. East Menlo Park fears traffic jams and overcrowded schools as much as the rest of the city, she pointed out, "but we don't have the money, the power, to fight it. ... People are ready to cut their hand off to not have affordable housing on the west side, but they're eager to put it on the east side in Belle Haven."
She finished by asking the council to "really consider the impact on the Belle Haven community."
Development Services Manager Justin Murphy, perhaps making the understatement of the evening, said, "I'm not certain anyone is excited by change in their neighborhood."
Residents of Sharon Heights and Linfield Oaks, earlier in the update process, mounted successful opposition to proposed sites in their neighborhoods — for now. It remains to be seen whether the next update cycle will revisit those areas.
Some Middle Avenue residents, on the other hand, want their neighborhood on the list. Elizabeth Houck asked the council whether that area could be upzoned. The answer, according to staff and Councilwoman Cat Carlton, is not at this time — but there won't be long to wait for consideration.
"So we can put it on the list for the next round, which starts almost immediately after this one," Ms. Carlton noted.
Mayor Peter Ohtaki said he shared Belle Haven's concerns, and said that Hamilton and Haven avenue sites were realistic projects that were already in the works prior to the update.
Proposing developments that include grocery stores and pharmacies for the Belle Haven area could help garner community support, but staff noted that the state doesn't tend to approve mixed-use zones as counting toward a city's housing quota.
Secondary units, mixed-use development, particularly for the Belle Haven sites, and exploring the potential for developing a neighborhood in partnership with Redwood City — which apparently has the capacity to absorb more students within its school districts than Menlo Park does — will be discussed further, according to staff.
The five sites the city will continue to evaluate for rezoning, as numbered on the map, are:
• Site 9: Department of Veteran's Affairs campus, located in the 700 block of Willow Road (60 housing units).
• Sites 10 and 11: Gateway Apartments, located in the 1200 block of Willow Road and also in the 1300 block of Willow Road, both owned by the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition (78 units total).
• Site 12: Hamilton Avenue East, located in the 700 and 800 blocks of Hamilton Avenue (216 units).
• Site 14: A site in the 3600 block of Haven Avenue (540 units).
Go to tinyurl.com/MP-heu to review the proposed changes as well as the update process. The City Council and Planning Commission will hold a joint meeting on April 9 to formally review the sites, and public hearings will be held throughout the spring.