Monday: Greenheart goes to Menlo Park's Planning Commission

Developers propose $2.1 million cash contribution as public benefit

Greenheart Land Co. will go before the Menlo Park Planning Commission on Monday, March 21, for a public hearing of the environmental impact report on its plans for a 6.4-acre development bounded by the Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real, Oak Grove Avenue and near Glenwood Avenue.

The commission will also conduct a study session on the project's proposed public benefits – perks that developments must provide to the city in exchange for permission to exceed what city code allows.

Greenheart is proposing taller buildings than would otherwise be permitted. Using the levels allowed with the "public benefit" exemption, the developer intends to build about 190,000 square feet of office space, up to 202 residential units, and up to 29,000 square feet of retail space.

The meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m. Monday in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St.

Traffic impacts

The EIR findings indicate that the project will have some traffic impacts – considered an inevitability of building anything on a mostly empty lot in downtown Menlo Park. Read the Almanac's previous reporting to see a more detailed breakdown of which intersections and roadways are expected to be impacted by the project.

Steve Pierce, principal developer of the Greenheart project, called Station 1300, said that the traffic delays expected are minimal.

By 2020, the report says, added traffic from Station 1300 is expected to cause delays during peak traffic hours of between 1.5 to 3.9 seconds at nearby intersections, and between a 1.6 and 7.1 percent increase in average daily traffic (the 7.1 percent increase would be on the stretch of Oak Grove Avenue between El Camino Real and Laurel Street).

The development is expected to impact El Camino Real/Ravenswood Avenue with a 1.5 second added delay. The project's impact on El Camino Real, Mr. Pierce said, will be reduced because the development will complete the stretch of Garwood Way between the two streets, dispersing traffic to Glenwood Avenue and Oak Grove Avenue. That stretch is now a dead-end roadway.

Mr. Pierce and Bob Burke, also a principal developer at Greenheart, say the impact report presents a worst-case scenario that maintains some assumptions that may not be the case.

For instance, they said, the report assumed that only 5 percent of the office workers at Station 1300 would use Caltrain, even though it will be within short walking distance of the station.

Transportation demand management (the buzzword used to describe incentives such as bike sharing, Caltrain Go Passes and Zipcar programs to reduce single-passenger-vehicle commuting) could reduce traffic impacts.

One argument they present is that the expected traffic impact is less than what was planned for the previous two developments at the site. When the city of Menlo Park adopted its El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, it chose to include two developments proposed at the time that ultimately were not built, due to the economic downturn. Those projects were expected to add 6,450 daily trips, so Greenheart's predicted 3,740 trips per day represents a hypothetical reduction of about 42 percent compared with what could be there, and what the city has already prepared for in earlier environmental impact research.

Finally, they say, Menlo Park can't always have its cake and eat it too – in other words, it can't add retail and restaurants without increasing traffic. Retail and dining space – which the city, in its downtown specific plan, says it wants – is a big traffic generator, said Mr. Pierce. Greenheart estimates that 45 percent of the development's daily trips will come from its retail and dining space.

Public Benefits

Greenheart's initial proposal for public benefits was a cash contribution of $2.1 million to the city's "Downtown Amenity Fund." That sum was calculated to be one-third of the total value that Greenheart will derive from the public benefit bonus.

The public benefits proposal presents the argument that building the project at the public benefit level will allow Greenheart to provide more "intrinsic" public benefits within the project.

Those include a park and a plaza valued at $3.38 million, which are possible because Greenheart plans to incur the added cost of building underground parking, estimated to cost $26 million.

Greenheart says that extending Garwood Drive for cars, bikes, and pedestrians will cost $2.3 million. By building at the public benefit level, they will also pay an additional $1.7 in impact fees and $425,000 for schools each year. Those community perks, they argue, would not be possible without the added allowances that building at the public benefit level create.

Read the agenda, go to the Menlo Park Planning Commission meeting Monday, watch it online, or stay tuned to see how the commission and the public react to Greenheart's proposal.

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