Menlo Park: Does Greenheart development have enough housing?


Housing near the train station, and whether there is enough of it, was a key issue raised March 21 during a Menlo Park Planning Commission meeting on Greenheart Development Co.'s proposed 420,000-square-foot mixed use development in downtown Menlo Park.

Greenheart plans to build 181 rental apartments (202,100 square feet), offices occupying 188,900 to 199,300 square feet, and retail space of from 18,600 to 29,000 square feet. The retail could include restaurants, shops and "personal service" business, such as a salon or yoga studio.

The commission held a study session on the project, which Greenheart is calling Station 1300 (named for its location at 1300 El Camino Real near the train station), and a public hearing on a draft environmental impact report.

Of the rental units, 21 would be "junior" one-bedroom apartments, 71 would be larger one-bedroom apartments, 82 would have two bedrooms, and seven would have three bedrooms.

Ten of the units would be "below market rate" and would have rent prices set according to a city formula, said Bob Burke, principal at Greenheart Land Co. Rent prices have not yet been determined, he said, as they likely won't be ready for occupancy until 2019. "We can't forecast that far out," he said.

Because Greenheart would build structures taller and larger than the base-level of development allowed on the site, the developer would have to provide some public benefit. The amount and nature of that benefit is something the city will hash out with the developer.

Greenheart has offered to pay the city $2.1 million as a public benefit. That amount is roughly equivalent to one-third of the value of the additional development allowed by the city, according to an evaluation by the consulting firm BAE.

Some planning commissioners, including John Onken and Susan Goodhue, said they'd like to see that $2.1 million invested in more below-market-rate housing units.

Others, such as Commissioner John Kadvany, said the public benefit money could be put toward a major infrastructure project the city is studying, such as a pedestrian/bike tunnel under the railroad track near Middle Avenue or a downtown parking garage.


Patti Fry, a former Menlo Park planning commissioner, said she would prefer the developer use the additional square footage allowed by the public benefit bonus for more housing, rather than more offices. Housing near the Caltrain station is one of the priorities of the city's El Camino Real/downtown specific plan, she noted.

Former councilman Steve Schmidt also called for more housing in the project.

"Menlo Park should build housing now while the zoning and the appropriate sites are available," he said in an email. "While the project may be in technical compliance with the Specific Plan, ... (the) project exceeds the base development for office, creating more local traffic problems and exacerbating the


Ms. Fry and several others, such as Commissioner Katie Ferrick, said the range of square footage for both office and retail space didn't provide enough clarity about the traffic impacts from the development. Also, they said, the traffic impacts could vary by the kind of retail that goes on the site whether it's restaurants, shops or "personal services" businesses, such a salon or yoga studio.

Both Ms. Fry and Ms. Ferrick cautioned against creating dead spaces where nothing is happening during long stretches of the day, such as at some kinds of personal fitness studios. "We need to make sure this is as lively as possible," said Ms. Fry.

Mark Spencer of W-Trans, a California traffic engineering consulting firm, analyzed the potential traffic impacts from the development.

The firm used models to project what traffic would be like under both short-term (2020) and long-term (2040) conditions. One mitigation measure analyzed was to change traffic signal timing on El Camino Real. That could help, Mr. Spencer said, but would only ameliorate traffic queuing by about 10 percent, if done well.

"A bit of congestion," he said, can encourage people to use other transit modes.

"You don't want to keep building your way out of congestion," he said, explaining that in his experience, it's more effective to get people off the road, using alternate transit modes, than to add more lanes.

Peak traffic hours in Menlo Park are lengthening, as local drivers well know. Mr. Spencer said evening traffic in Menlo Park used to peak between 4:30 and 6 p.m. Now there's a high amount of traffic as early as 3 p.m., and that's not just because of Menlo-Atherton High School, he said.

Willow Road is jammed from about 3 to 7:30 p.m. Traffic is already so bad that it doesn't take much new development to tip the traffic-impact scale to a "significant and unavoidable" level on downtown roadways, he said.

Open space

Clem Molony, who said he has lived in Menlo Park for 40 years, said the fact that the Greenheart development was "transit-oriented" and featured underground parking and open space were pluses for him.

Commissioners said they appreciated that 49 percent of the development's ground level would be open space, much of which would be open to the public. Some wondered if the public would actually use it as a public space, given its layout.

A public plaza, about half an acre in size, would be set between two office buildings, and would have an adjacent amphitheater area and possibly restaurants, Greenheart principal Steve Pierce said. There would also be a park open to the public.

Skip Hilton, a 23-year Menlo Park resident, said the mix of smaller rental units proposed in the project would increase the population density downtown, but still minimize the impact on schools.

Public comment

The public comment period on the draft environmental impact report ends on April 4. Comments can be emailed to Thomas Rogers, principal planner, at: or by mail to: Thomas Rogers, City of Menlo Park Community Development Department, Planning Division, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park CA 94025.

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8 people like this
Posted by mary
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 25, 2016 at 1:33 pm

perhaps Greenheart would like to create water while they are busy building all of these units....doesn't anyone on any council or environmental impact study take water into consideration? it's ridiculous.

8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 25, 2016 at 2:40 pm

So now our city's / Greenheart's traffic consultants are attempting to frame excessive traffic congestion as an environmental good:

' "Sometimes," he said, "a bit of congestion can help safety and encourage other modes (of transit)." In other words, when traffic gets too unbearable, people become more likely to use other transit modes. '

Says the physician to his obese patient, 'welcome your ulcer ... now the pain will prevent you from gorging, and you will lose weight'.

Greenheart a 'transit-oriented' project ... just because of proximity to the tracks ?

Not a word in the above discussion about reduced residential quality of life due to steadily increasing traffic/pollution/noise.

Why doesn't the city publish a one/two page traffic forecast accounting for the joint impact of projects under consideration (and of the mandated additional housing), and mail to all residents ?

They don't because of the resultant public outcry. Or perhaps not. The discussion of 'public benefits' and the like is intended to cloak as civic-mindedness the profit motives of the dollar-hungry development and real-estate interests, from an increasingly resigned public.

3 people like this
Posted by Help
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2016 at 8:33 am

Has the town council sat in traffic on Willow or El Camino lately?

It took me 45 minutes once to get from middlefield to 101. Something has to be done.

Like this comment
Posted by make project better
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2016 at 11:20 am

We all know that traffic is already really bad and that development will make it worse. The consultant said the traffic is nearing the tipping point.So let's make sure that new projects add to our quality of life, not primarily subtract.

This developer isn't making any commitments to shops and dining. Not any. They just claim they will have "community serving" uses. Some "could be" offices (it WILL be with today's rents), and even want part of the "community serving" space to be a rental office for their own buildings!

The project is at the Bonus range in the part of downtown that the Specific Plan designated to "focus on residential" because it's close to the train station and downtown. But instead of adding housing at the Bonus level, the developer wants offices and not even the amount of housing units allowed at the Base level. Big office buildings are not vibrant. They bring commuters. We have enough dead spaces in downtown area, with the banks and realtor offices.
Let's make sure that the project is really good for Menlo Park residents -bringing in people who will be part of our residential community and providing places for dining and shopping. More housing density and restaurant/retail space would be much better. Otherwise, we don't need a huge project that mostly brings more commuters.

2 people like this
Posted by Vote 4 Housing
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 2, 2016 at 4:07 pm

Huh! A Transt Oriented Development? The draft EIR says only 5% of tenants will use the train! This is not a T.O.D. This is your standard office complex with no required retail and very easy expensive rental housing units. The so-called below market rate housing units are few.
All of ECR could have been housing. The town needs residents who will invest culturally into Menlo Park. With millions of sq ft of office planned for Menlo Park, we had better start building housing or the city is going to be sued again.

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

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