By Barbara Wood | Almanac Staff Writer
The specific plan governing development in Menlo Park's downtown and El Camino Real corridor is undergoing its second periodic review since it was adopted in 2012.
The review starts Monday night, Aug. 3, at the Planning Commission meeting; the commission will decide whether to recommend any changes in the plan to the City Council.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers, located at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center. The public will be allowed to speak as part of the review.
The plan, the target of an unsuccessful 2014 ballot measure that would have changed several aspects of it, contains requirements for periodic reviews. The first took place in 2013, and subsequent reviews are due every two years.
In the staff report on the specific plan prepared for the meeting by city planners Jean Lin and Thomas Rogers, a few minor changes to the plan are proposed, mostly having to do with parking requirements.
But Planning Commissioner John Kadvany has suggested a more substantial change. In his proposal, attached to the staff report, Mr. Kadvany suggests that the plan needs clear guidelines for determining what the city should get in the form of "public benefits" in return for giving a developer the right to build more square footage than what would normally be allowed.
He proposes putting a dollar figure on how much the increased floor area is worth, a figure the city could then use in negotiating public benefits.
Mr. Kadvany proposes that the dollar figure be determined by a formula that considers the market value of the developer's land, either leased or purchased, divided by how many square feet of development could be built in a "baseline" project that does not require public benefit negotiations.
That value per square foot would then be multiplied by the number of additional square feet allowed with the public benefits, resulting in a value for the extra floor area. Negotiations could determine how much of that extra value would go to the city and how much would go to a developer, he said, with credit given for things such as uses that bring in sales tax revenue to the city, desirable architecture, or a desired use, such as a hotel, which pays a special tax.
While it was not part of his proposal, Mr. Kadvany said other changes in the specific plan may be proposed on Monday, including lowering the threshold for requiring a developer to provide public benefits.
Part of the specific plan review includes looking at what projects have been proposed or approved since the plan's adoption. A chart shows that while not a lot has been built, if all the already-proposed projects are built, they would amount to 86 percent of the total office space allowed under the plan and 64 percent of the total of housing -- or nearly 407,000 square feet of commercial space and 432 housing units.
The 356-page specific plan was adopted after a process that involved more than 90 public meetings, according to the staff report. The plan's guiding principles are to: enhance public space, generate vibrancy, sustain Menlo Park's village character, enhance connectivity, and promote healthy living and sustainability.
The adopted plan includes standards, guidelines, and illustrations.
If the City Council decides it wants changes in the plan, city planners will have to return with those changes, which will require Planning Commission review and City Council approval as well as review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Changes could take some time to go into effect. Three changes in the plan recommended after the initial 2013 review were not adopted until October 2014. The staff report says minor changes could be put into place in five to seven months, and major changes could take more than a year.