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.