Menlo Park extends timeline for M2 zoning changes


After a lengthy discussion on March 31, the Menlo Park City Council opted to take a 60-day timeout before pressing forward with the next steps in the long process of updating the zoning rules for what can be built in the city's M2 industrial district. The council and the Planning Commission, which held a joint study session on the topic, want to use that time to talk further with community members about what's happening.

"This all happened so quickly here ... that I don't think people have had the time to digest it," said Councilman Ray Mueller, referring to new information that had arrived during the past month. Mayor Catherine Carlton agreed.

Some of that new information involved Facebook's expanding portfolio of real estate in the M2, the area roughly bordered by the San Francisco Bay, University Avenue, U.S. 101 and Marsh Road. The area has recently seen and will continue to see a development surge, thanks to Facebook as well as the upcoming construction of Menlo Gateway and various new housing complexes.

The zoning update is part of the city's revision to its general plan, the overall "constitution" for development within Menlo Park.

The usual questions are being asked: How high should the buildings go? What about traffic and school impacts associated with the expected 4,500 new housing units? Should necessities such as grocery stores count as public benefits? But community reaction indicated that the answers require further discussion before the city starts planning the fiscal and environmental impact reports (EIR).

One source of consternation involved language, with council members and planning commissioners pointing out that while "preferred land use alternative" may be a phrase commonly used in environmental studies, which analyze the maximum development allowed by proposed changes to zoning regulations, it falsely implies that maximum development is preferred.

"If people think that those maximums don't fit their community, how do you respond why we're even considering those for this EIR?" asked Commissioner Drew Combs.

One maximum in particular – the exploration of eight-story buildings on Facebook's 56-acre Prologis property, located on Willow Road just south of the Bayshore Expressway – served as a lightning rod for residents of the nearby Belle Haven neighborhood, with some commenting before the study session that such heights would be inappropriate.

Representatives of PlaceWorks, the consultant overseeing the zoning change process, said that depictions of 8-story buildings were meant only to illustrate what that would look like.

Council members Ray Mueller and Peter Ohtaki, who are serving on the general plan advisory committee, wrote in an email to the city that a conversation with Facebook representatives on Wednesday, April 1, clarified that the social media company does not want to build 8-story buildings on the Prologis site. Facebook, which bought the property in February, said it's in the early stages of figuring out what to do with the site. It doesn't expect to increase the office density, according to the council members.

"Lastly, Facebook stated their support for the recommendation to take more time for study, education and outreach in connection with the Connect Menlo process," the council members wrote.

Go to the ConnectMenlo page on the city's website for updates.

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2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 3, 2015 at 12:43 pm

really? is a registered user.

There's far too much patronizing of Belle Haven by the Council. What if they took the same tome with Sharon Heights- 'poor Sharon Height, we really want to support your community, blah blah..'

These projects might just allow Belle Haven to stand on it's own and turn it's back on downtown Menlo Park. So the hope should be to 'Disconnect Menlo' and make Belle Haven more of a desirable 'place' then the downtown specific plan could ever achieve

Cut the cord and let Belle Haven thrive!

3 people like this
Posted by Developers and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 3, 2015 at 6:11 pm

As is pointed out by Commissioner Combs, the Plan must plan for what the community wants, and avoid including the possibility of scenarios that the community does not.
The general plan must anticipate what COULD happen if certain rules are in place. Just because a given property owner professes certain intentions today, that has no meaning for the future. Their plans may change, their ownership of the property may change, the market will change. The job at hand is to anticipate what COULD happen if certain development is ALLOWED. If 8 stories are allowed, then some developer very well may develop 8 stories. The Alternatives only describe a few scenarios. The zoning RULES must support desirable scenarios and not support undesirable scenarios. So if 8 story buildings are not desired, the rules cannot allow them. However if 8 story buildings are ok if set back 30 feet (pick a number), then the rules need to allow that and nothing that high if not set back at least that much.

In the past, a lot of time is spent with the public on its dreams, much less on the Alternatives, and almost no time on what the zoning rules actually allow. I am glad the council is allowing time on the Alternatives, and I hope they will do the same for the rules. We ought to learn from the fiasco of the downtown plan that projected alternatives with ratios of office, housing, and retail but included zoning rules that allowed very different ratios and scenarios that are being pursued by developers even though that was not what residents were led to believe were possible.

4 people like this
Posted by Bob McGrew
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 3, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Belle Haven residents' concerns deserve the same level of attention and respect as any other residents of Menlo Park. It sounds like Facebook is already working to accommodate them, which is good.

I'm glad that the council is working to find a solution that will work for everyone, because the housing that Facebook is looking to build is desperately needed in Menlo Park. Rents are high and have increased dramatically in the last five years, while Menlo Park hasn't built a new apartment complex in decades. More housing is going up on and near El Camino and we need more housing in Belle Haven, too.

Menlo Park mostly has family housing, so we have a shortage of small units for young singles and empty nesters. If we build to address that shortage, the impact on schools will be minimal while the new buildings will provide much-needed tax revenue.

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Posted by developers and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 4, 2015 at 9:19 am

Uhh not that much housing is going up on El Camino. Most of the project proposals are for office buildings. If this continues, that will put even more pressure on other parts of town to add dense housing. The council could address this

5 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 4, 2015 at 11:18 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

The Artisan Way complex of housing is on El Camino and is fully built. The Greenheart proposal for 1300 El Camino is a mixture of office, retail and housing, and calls for 202 housing units. A boutique hotel has been proposed at 1400 El Camino, not an office building. Stanford has not yet come back with a revised proposal so no one can speak to that project at this point. A housing development has been proposed at the old Roger Reynolds site. Bob McGrew is exactly correct that housing is going on up and near El Camino.

2 people like this
Posted by Lisa Abramson
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 5, 2015 at 12:20 pm

If we have learned anything from the Stanford/Arrillaga controversy, it is that zoning laws matter more than community meetings and conversations with developers' representatives. Any number of wishes can be expressed and promises made, but they have no legal bearing. Ultimately, the zoning laws will dictate what can or cannot be built in a given area. "Maximum development allowed" is the bottom line. The fact that Facebook representatives have expressed to Council members Ray Mueller and Peter Ohtaki that "the social media company does not want to build 8-story buildings on the Prologis site" is meaningless. If the zoning laws allow it, they will be well within their rights to do so. As Commissioner Drew Combs said "Why would you change the zoning laws if you didn't want them to do that?"

I am not complaining about Facebook. My property values have soared, thanks, in part, to the many tech companies in our area. Facebook is a forward thinking, innovative company. Perhaps they will have some answers to the inevitable problems that come with expansion. But those problems should be addressed, and solutions put in place before the development occurs. I live in the Fair Oaks neighborhood where we have struggled with cut thru traffic from Middlefield to Marsh Road for many years. Right now, Middlefield, Marsh & Willow Roads are the only conduits for people traveling from west of 101 to the M2 area. They are all 2 lane streets, already congested. With the Bohannon project and Facebook's expansion, the traffic will obviously increase. Perhaps some white busses or vans to service those commuters?

Both of my kids went thru Encinal and Hillview schools which were under construction for the entire time they were there. Most of that construction had to be replaced by new 2 story buildings to accommodate unexpected increases in enrollment. We need to do a better job of planning ahead.

Infrastructure changes are needed to accommodate all of this new development. Transportation especially. I think community members would be more supportive of increased development and changes to M2 zoning if these issues were addressed, and the solutions written into the new zoning laws.

1 person likes this
Posted by J.K.
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 5, 2015 at 4:12 pm


Those who watched the meeting know that Drew Comb's comment were the only words he uttered the whole meeting. Nothing substantive to add, rather he just pandered. Same reason he lost the last election.

He didn't express any basis to know what the community in Belle Haven actually wants as a whole. Just a well constructed sound bite for his anti-development buddies.

You should also know that Ohtaki and Mueller's letter actually is significant as the EIR parameters aren't set. The reason eight stories was being discussed was due to the mistaken belief Facebook was seeking an eight story building for affordable housing purposes. It's hard to imagine any eight story being considered in the EiR as a result.

3 people like this
Posted by developers and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 6, 2015 at 8:34 am

@ Lisa - thanks for articulating the truth, that the zoning rules matter. What is allowed is what matters the most.
@ JK - the letter is not significant unless it is translated into height limits in the zoning rules. EIR's typically do not discuss height at all. Just maximum square feet development.
@TW - yes, some housing is proposed in downtown plan area, but it's not anywhere close to the ratio of housing to non-housing that was studied in the EIR for the specific plan. The reason is that the zoning rules do not match that ratio. The Sierra Club told the Council several times but the council keeps ignoring that fact.

2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 6, 2015 at 9:40 am

really? is a registered user.

This all smells a bit like the panic over 'Homeless Shelter Proposed for Burgess Park.' A purely paper exercise for the benefit of the State, but everyone got the wrong end of the stick and it created mistrust and community outrage. Methinks there's a fair amount of that and we all need to keep our heads, and focus on the real zoning updates and not this EIR.

4 people like this
Posted by developer and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm

@ really -- I heartily disagree that this EIR is just part of an exercise. It will be if we residents and businesses allow it to be just a piece of paper. The city is finally updating the General Plan, something not done for more than 20 years. It ought to help guide development, with suitable goals and limits embodied in it and in the related changes to zoning rules. Shame on our council and staff, and us residents if it's not done well. We can learn a lot from the specific plan effort and the disconnects between the plan and the zoning rules. Many people who voted against Measure M thought it was not the best way to fix the flaws of the specific plan, and they're still waiting for the council to do something.

3 people like this
Posted by developers and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 7, 2015 at 8:00 am

@ really? I just reread your posting. We seem to agree that getting the zoning rules right is essential. Peace
A problem with EIR's is that if the zoning rules allow different scenarios, as is happening with the downtown plan, then the EIR effort is a colossal waste of money and time, and becomes misleading. The GP consultant has said that the effort is aimed at a 20 year horizon but probably won't last nearly that long. What that means is that another GP update would be needed or that the city reverts to one-off project approvals as it has been doing in M-2 and is in the middle of doing downtown with the stanford and greenhart projects.

1 person likes this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:13 am

really? is a registered user.


You can't have General Plans last 20 years in any case as certain elements of the Plan are required to be regularly updated by the State (as we all know from the Housing Element). So I wouldn't worry about the shelf-life. I agree that the EIR is a waste of time and money- as are more EIRs but welcome to the mess that is CEQA. So again my point is that we're putting the cart before the horse for strategic reasons. In a perfect world, we would agree the zoning rules and draft the GP, and only after that submit an EIR on those precise proposals. Since we're doing this backwards and risking the animosity and alienation of half our community, it better be for a good strategic reason!

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"You can't have General Plans last 20 years in any case as certain elements of the Plan are required to be regularly updated by the State (as we all know from the Housing Element)"

The Menlo Park General Plan has been legally out of date for years. Bits and pieces have been updated but the General Plan (adopted December 1, 1994) is over 20 years old (ten years is the legal limit).

4 people like this
Posted by developers and rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 7, 2015 at 11:25 am

A long-range plan, with maximum allowable buildout, could be created, even for 20 year period or longer. There is a requirement to review sooner than 20 years, but that doesn't mean that a long-range plan cannot be created. The problem Menlo Park has is that it hasn't created credible long-range plans and hasn't reviewed the plan along the way. The way Menlo Park has done the review is to look at the required plan Elements separately, not in concert. That's true even now.

The 1994 plan was built out within about 5 years. The downtown plan will be built out in less than 5 years, too (at least the non-residential part of it unless the council acts). The way Menlo Park approaches planning is extremely expensive and time-consuming, and the plans have no integrity even medium term.

Like this comment
Posted by Apropos
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 10, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Facebook has learned that "creation speed" is not the only thing that matters. When you "Move Fast and Break Things" you have to go back and fix them. When it comes to city planning, retrofitting can be difficult. Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is now embracing the motto "Move Fast With Stable Infra". Perhaps we should adopt this approach when making changes to the M2 zoning rules. Transportation, housing, schools, water allocation, all should all be addressed before development occurs.

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

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