Commission votes in favor of Bohannon project


Menlo Park's Planning Commission voted 4-3 at its meeting Monday, May 3, in favor of a prodigious development project proposed by the Bohannon Development Co. near the intersection of Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway.

The project includes three eight-story office buildings and a 230-room hotel with a sports club, as well as several large parking garages. It would total nearly 1 million square feet, roughly the size of the Sun Microsystems campus at the end of Willow Road.

The commission's recommendation will go to the City Council, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project May 25. Under the current schedule, the council could approve the project at a subsequent meeting June 15.

Among other things, the commission recommended that the council ask the Bohannon Development Co. to "identify" 5 to 10 acres within Menlo Park that would be suitable for housing, and to ask the company to provide an annual in-lieu fee at the rate of $1.40 per square foot of office space that's built. That would amount to nearly $1 million per year for city coffers in addition to the $1.4.-1.7 million the city already anticipates in annual tax revenue, assuming the project is built.

"That, I think, is a very significant addressing of what the increase in value of the land would be, especially considering the fact that there is really no increase in value unless someone puts cash in up front, and takes the very significant risk involved in developing this property," said Henry Riggs, the commission member who made the motion.

Vince Bressler, John Kadvany, and Melody Pagee dissented in the vote, saying that the city needed to spend more time evaluating the project. The vote fell along the same lines as the commission's recommendation on the new Burgess Gymnasium in June 2009.

"I think a million dollars a year is a pretty small fraction of the incremental increase in cash flow potential that exists here," Mr. Bressler said, referring to Mr. Riggs' motion. "And I think we need a process to really thoroughly air this out. And I definitely can't support this unless that's part of what we're talking about here."

Mr. Kadvany said he thought the commission was overlooking the central issue of planning for the city's waterfront land, especially when it comes to dealing with prominent overhead power lines that stretch along the Bay.

"I'm really dismayed at the lack of urban planning that's going on here," he said, maintaining that the city was too focused on monetary benefits, and calling the process "design-by-spreadsheet." "If we don't think about this now ... if (the) council doesn't talk about it, it's just ... I just don't get it."

Commission members who voted in favor of the project praised its aesthetics, and commended developer David Bohannon for his dedication to working with the city.

"This is a very attractive project," Mr. Riggs said. "If it goes forward, I think we will be proud of it. Our whole town will be proud of it."

"There's just so much that speaks for this project being good for the town," said commission chair John O'Malley.

See related stories:

Bohannon project will proceed to final vote

Bohannon agrees to public benefits, emission reductions

Bohannon office/hotel project too big? Not necessarily, Menlo Park City Council says

Getting a handle on the Bohannon project

6 years. 70 consultants. $7.5 million. Inside David Bohannon's big development proposal.

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Like this comment
Posted by developer
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 5, 2010 at 10:53 am

Commissioner Riggs fails to understand that the property's value increases as soon as the upzoning is approved.

Like this comment
Posted by developer
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

A real top tier office project is the Water Garden in Santa Monica...

Web Link

The rent there are less than Menlo Park.
Bohannon's project doesn't compare.

Like this comment
Posted by 900-lb elephant
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

The planning commission received hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents including some complex financial analyses. It's pretty clear that at least a couple of them had no idea what they were looking at. They were afraid of appearing ignorant, and knew that if they asked any questions more complicated than "what kind of trees will you plant?" their lack of understanding would have been evident.

It is absolutely scandalous that the project was pushed through in this manner. Both Bressler and Kadvany provided solid reasons for spending more time on the effort. Let's hope the council is a little more circumspect and doesn't feel the need to kowtow to Bohannon.

Like this comment
Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm

This project still has a long way to go and plenty of time to be scrutinized by the city. After all, this is not an actual approval of a project, but approval of the zoning for a project.

This zoning change is an important step in moving Menlo Park forward. Bressler, Pagee and Cadvany are left overs from our no growth past that brought you the El Camino blight.

Like this comment
Posted by Fact checker
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm

El camino blight occurred exclusively under the reign of pro-growth council majority Winkler, Duboc, Jellins. W & D wer correctly unseated after a single term.

The approval includes a developer agreement, a contract, which includes by reference, a Conditional Development Permit, that describes an actual project.

Throughout, the approvals have been a moving target, constantly changing, and neither the public nor council has yet seen the finished product which is quite different from the initial proposal.

One issue is that the project description doesn't protect the city by insuring that Bohannon will actually build the proposed, hotel, the one component of the project estimated to produce revenue for the city. council has not yet deliberated over the development agreement all it saw was a vague term sheet.

Like this comment
Posted by Commission blew it
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm

The Planning Commission has a duty to the city and council to conduct due diligence. They rushed through a review of thousands of pages in just two meetings, apparently pushed by staff. The commission spent more time working on a defition of how to count square footage than on this complex project, and new zoning.
The Almanac did not interpret correctly their vote. Even the four who voted to move the project forward recommended additional fees. They did not recommend the current agreement.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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