Last-minute emails and letters flooded City Hall right before the April 4 deadline for comment on the draft environmental impact report on the proposed Greenheart mixed-use project at 1300 El Camino Real at Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park. Greenheart Land Co. proposes to build 420,000 square feet of residential, office and retail space.
The deadline stuck to the standard 45-day window for public comment, although a representative of the Sierra Club had asked city planners for a two-week extension to further analyze the draft report.
Thomas Rogers, principal planner for the city, responded to the request, saying: "We (including the City Manager's Office) have reviewed the Sierra Club's request for additional time, but we don't believe there are unique circumstances that warrant an extension."
One concern, raised by Menlo Park resident and former planning commissioner Patti Fry, was that the numbers on the actual project's breakdown of different uses has not been consistent.
The most recent designs for the project, according to the project website at station1300.com, show an intended 181 housing units covering 202,100 square feet, office space ranging from 188,900 to 199,300 square feet, and retail or "community serving" business space ranging from 18,600 to 29,000 square feet.
Built into the ranges for the development proposed uses is a window of about 11,000 square feet, said Ms. Fry, which could become either more office space or "community serving" business space. That window of uncertainty widens when one considers the vagueness of "community serving business.
The list of what those could be, she said, vary in their potential impact on the city. "That list includes uses such as banks and real estate offices, personal and business services, retail and restaurants, each of which use has distinctly different contributions to evening and weekend vibrancy and distinctly different impacts on City sales tax revenue, not to mention convenience and benefits in a mixed-use environment," she said in an email to the city.
Another inconsistency was that in the draft environmental report that was available for public comment, the project reported it could build up to 202 housing units, yet current plans are for only 181 units covering the same number of square feet. Most documents say 182 are planned, but at the city's March 21 Planning Commission meeting, developer Bob Burke said that the number had been further reduced due to a stairwell.
Creating fewer, larger units with the proposed residential square footage could mean that families, rather than seniors, young singles or couples, would move in, adding pressure for local schools to accommodate new children.
The amount of proposed housing is not the maximum amount that could be built on the lot, she said. The city's El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan zones for up to 50 housing units per acre, Ms. Fry said, so the 6.4 acre lot could accommodate 320 housing units.
An email from the Sierra Club confirmed its representatives also want to see more than the proposed number of housing units built on the site. Seventy percent of the proposed office space, they said, could still be built if housing were maximized on the site. Public benefits Greenheart would owe to the city should go toward making at least 15 to 20 percent of the housing units below market rate, they said.
Traffic and parking
Representatives from Atherton say they think the projections for increased traffic are conservative: projected increases of 1 percent per year are lower than what's been seen in recent years, said Mayor Elizabeth Lewis. Recent traffic counts done by Atherton show growth of about 3 percent or more each year between 2002 and 2015 on several Atherton streets, their letter claimed.
Menlo Park resident George Fisher agreed that the projected 1 percent annual increase in traffic seemed conservative and said the study should have further analyzed the potential impact the development would have on cut-through traffic. Representatives of the Sierra Club said the project also had too much parking, at 1,000 spots planned to go underground. The club said it would rather see fewer parking spaces and a paid permit program for the occupants of the development.