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Menlo Park community gets ready for Saturday's 'charrette' at Facebook

Designers to focus on Belle Haven and Willow business area

Anyone living within a half mile of Menlo Park probably knows the city will host a design "charrette" on Saturday, March 5, to create a fresh vision for the areas surrounding the new Facebook campus, and the city is taking steps to make sure everyone, including Spanish-only speakers, gets the invite.

Business development manager Dave Johnson shared fliers inviting residents to the charrette in Spanish, and said he's also trying to get United Nations style translator headsets for the actual event, depending on cost.

The event, a time-constrained community planning process co-sponsored by the city and Facebook with the theme "creating a sense of place," will be staffed by volunteer design professionals drawn together by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Four teams of design professionals, led by licensed architects, will focus on specific areas of Belle Haven and the nearby business area, according to Noemi Avram, an architect representing the San Mateo County chapter of the AIA.

Explaining that charrettes are the AIA's way to serve the community, Ms. Avram also offered her services as a Spanish translator for the charrette. The planning begins when shuttles carry the teams on a tour of the four areas. After they return to the Facebook campus at 8:30 a.m., the community can join in. "Stakeholders will offer ideas during the morning, mostly, as during the afternoon the design work is being done," Ms. Avram explained. "They're welcome to walk around and give their ideas and comments to each team. The architects will be doing the drawing, but all ideas are welcome."

However, the designers won't tackle the Facebook campus. "That's off limits," Ms. Avram said, laughing. But they will examine the wetlands at the perimeter of the campus and frontage along the Bayfront Expressway, with an eye toward creating a linked series of trails for pedestrians and bicyclists.

After rendering their plans on 8-by-4-foot posters, the teams will start presenting the designs at 6:30 p.m.

Given Menlo Park's history of requesting studies and then repeating those studies years later, residents have wondered whether ideas emerging from the charrette will ever become reality.

According to Ms. Avram, who also participated in a charrette held in 2005 for downtown Menlo Park, ideas from that event influenced the proposed downtown specific plan. Highlighting other Peninsula projects that have benefited from charrettes, such as San Mateo's main library, which took shape 10 years after the community planning, Ms. Avram said, "My point is that we're not just dreamers; we are dreamers, that's what architects do, but there's a reality to it."

"This is about connection," she added. "This is not about Facebook building some central courtyard on campus. This is about how to better integrate all the surrounding properties in such a way that there is better use."

INFORMATION

"Creating a Sense of Place," the design charrette for the Belle Haven neighborhood and nearby business area, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 5, at the former Sun Microsystems campus (10 Network Circle) in Menlo Park. The entrance is located at the intersection of Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway. For more information, contact Dave Johnson, the city of Menlo Park's business development manager, at drjohnson@menlopark.org or 330-6600 for more information.

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