Menlo Park downtown plan heads to council

Planning Commission votes 6-0 to send plan forward

The "p" word dominated discussion of the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan at Monday night's Planning Commission meeting.

Actually, there were a lot of "p" words: paseo, pedestrian, project, plan, plaza, permit. But the one hurled around most often was "parking."

Members of the Downtown Alliance and Lions Club tallied up spaces lost and gained, worried about the impact on local businesses and the farmers market if spaces vanish.

Alliance co-founder Nancy Couperus suggested keeping diagonal parking along Santa Cruz Avenue and, if a parking garage is really necessary, that it go in plaza 2, off Oak Grove and Chestnut Street.

She also asked that the city's trial installation of a small marketplace off a Chestnut Street paseo take place during a busy time of year to measure the true impact on parking, and for staff to establish criteria to determine whether the trial succeeds or fails.

Other public speakers all but shouted "hallelujah" at the thought that the specific plan, at least five years in the making, may be approaching the finish line.

But one word no one -- commissioners and staff included -- threw around was "perfect."

Architect Sam Sinott called the plan truly democratic, "truly the voice of the people." He urged the commissioners to reconsider requiring new buildings to meet higher environmental standards than already required by the building code.

"In Menlo Park we have the habit of stacking on requirements until they break," he said. The higher standards would add "5 to 7 percent" to the cost of building without really gaining anything, while the city needs to encourage, not discourage, developers, he told the panel.

Implementation of some aspects of the plan inspired deep interest by the commissioners, such as prioritizing a bike and pedestrian undercrossing on Middle Avenue. However, since the specific plan is only a framework for future development and not a project itself, they were ready to call it done.

"I see us polishing the silver at this point," said Commissioner Henry Riggs, later adding, "I think the specific plan is done" in terms of being able to forward it to council.

So after midnight the commission voted 6-0 to send the plan onwards. Commissioner Ben Eiref participated by telephone during the initial hours of the meeting from an East Coast airport, but had to hang up before the end.

"I don't know if any of us would've signed up in 2007 if we knew it was going to take this long," Commission Chair Katie Ferrick noted.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to review the specific plan on June 5 and June 12.


Like this comment
Posted by Susannah
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Would like to make sure that any underpasses, parking structures and alleyways have very good lighting and safety measures so people do not avoid them because of a perception of personal safety problems. The bike/pedestrian underpasses in downtown Palo Alto are not well enough lit and feel unsafe.

Like this comment
Posted by Doug
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Yeah...makes a whole lot of sense..empty store fronts everywhere in a down economy. Lets make it worse and by building a bunch of stuff and limit parking all the while that's going

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