Menlo Park: Pollock boutique hotel approved


Menlo Park is closer to getting a new boutique hotel on El Camino Real.

The Menlo Park Planning Commission unanimously approved Monday night a 61-room hotel proposed by the Portola Valley-based Pollock Financial Group. The hotel will be built at 1400 El Camino Real at Glenwood Avenue in Menlo Park, the former site of a Shell gas station.

The commission decided to accept the hotel's transient occupancy tax, estimated to generate about $604,000 a year in revenue for the city, as a sufficient public benefit for the community in exchange for the right to build at a higher density than would otherwise be allowed.

The hotel could be 48 feet high, instead of the 38 feet that would otherwise be allowed, and would have a floor-area ratio (total square feet of building space divided by the lot's square footage) of 1.49, rather than the 1.1 that would be allowed without a public benefit.

The plan is to build a four-story L-shaped hotel with a restaurant and bar with indoor and outdoor seating, and an event room.

There would be 75 underground parking spots – one spot less than the required amount – but because the garage would be run by valets, more cars could be fit into the space, representatives of Pollock Financial said. Additional parking could be available in the parking lot of Language Pacifica, on the other side of Glenwood Avenue, yielding a total of 115 potential available spots, the representatives said.

To reduce traffic, the hotel will provide Caltrain GO passes for all employees and guests, and additional transit subsidies for employees, the representatives said. There would be an e-bike sharing program, whereby hotel guests could check out pedal-assisted bikes to travel around town, with free helmets and locks. Hotel employees would also have bike parking, showers and lockers.

Under current plans, the hotel would meet the building sustainability guidelines to get LEED Silver certification. It could meet the next, more stringent level, LEED Gold, but representatives from Pollock Financial Group said the plans can't yet guarantee anything beyond the "Silver" status.

The building would have solar panels to produce hot water, and technology in guest rooms to reduce energy use while the rooms not in use. Landscaping, the representatives said, would incorporate native and drought-resistant plants.

Still, there were some lingering concerns. Commissioner Drew Combs said he didn't think it created a good precedent for the Planning Commission to accept the promise of hotel tax revenue in exchange for building at the additional "bonus" level size. The hotel would have had to pay the hotel tax to the city anyway, he said.

Commissioners John Kadvany and Katherine Strehl said that they wanted the hotel tax revenue to go toward funding improvements in the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan area. Currently, hotel tax revenues go to the city's general fund.

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6 people like this
Posted by Zoning Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:32 pm

This seems like a lack of ability of the planning commission and city council.

What they've managed to accomplish is making "complying with the law" (the transient occupancy tax) a public benefit.
Someone should appeal this.

33 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Here's the developer's winning formula:

1. Buy a property (or better yet, enter into an agreement to buy contingent on the city approving your project; that way you bear no risk)

2. Let the property sit for a few months. Erect a chain-link fence around it. Encourage weeds to grow and allow empty beer cans to pile up.

3. Submit your proposal, which includes multiple concessions from the city and perhaps rezoning because otherwise it won't pencil out for you.

4. If the city balks, threaten to leave the property as is. No need to worry that the city will enact or enforce a law requiring upkeep of vacant property. Not happening.

5. Plant a few letters in the Almanac and on Townsquare that praise you for your bravery in getting rid of the blight. If anyone objects to your windfall profiting at the expense of the public, sneer at them. They are NIMBYs, Luddites, and other lowlifes who would rather drive past weeds and old junk than your bright new project.

Works like a charm! Every time!

2 people like this
Posted by Blame Game
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:30 pm

@ZoningWatcher why are you blaming the City Council for a Planning Commission decision?

17 people like this
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Yea, one blight down, more to go!!!

20 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Yes, what a sham. Allowing a land owner to develop a piece of property it owns. horrors. It is amazing that anyone would object to a former gas station being turned into a much need hotel. It will be a welcome addition to our run down downtown and ECR corridor. I can't wait to have a drink at the hotel bar!

17 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:34 pm

Blame Game
Simple. Because the city council appointed the planning commission members.

11 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I see there's more than enough koolaid to go around. Drink up, friends. By the time the impacts arrive, you'll be so numb that you won't know what hit you.

2 people like this
Posted by Public Benefit
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:43 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names.]

12 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Money says that if your friends from out-of-town ask you where to stay, you'll suggest Palo Alto, or where to eat, maybe Redwood City.

Where to sit back, watch videos of the Commission, then write letters to the editor? Menlo Park.

26 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Transit Occupancy Tax is one price of doing business as a hotel. You, the hotel operator, are required to collect it from guests.

Following the law is not providing a public benefit. Menlo Park is not a struggling little town in the Rust Belt. I'm guessing that most of these posts are written by the developers/their investors. At least I hope my fellow residents aren't that thick.

23 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:19 pm

"not a struggling little town in the Rust Belt"
The stretch of ECR in Menlo Park has for years now made Detroit and Baltimore look positively prosperous. MP residents should be overjoyed that someone wants to take a risk on trying to bring some commerce to their city in spite of the continuous, overwhelming mood of nimby-ism that pervades there.

5 people like this
Posted by Transient tax
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:39 pm

No Contest got it right, and Combs almost did:
The transient occupancy tax is paid by future hotel room occupants, not the develooer. So the savvy developer gets a large zoning boost and associated profits without paying any extra bonus to the city.

14 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:40 pm

"The stretch of ECR in Menlo Park has for years now made Detroit and Baltimore look positively prosperous."

Read my first post on this thread.You have to agree that the developers' strategy works!

By the way, I love hotels -- the TOT is gravy for the city -- and am in favor of having a hotel on this site. However, I see no need to allow a developer to flaut the zoning and build a hotel that's about 50% larger than zoning allows -- not without public benefit or some kind of quid pro quo. TOT is not public benefit. TOT is a required assessment.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

No contest:

nice try. The gas station was closing. If it hadn't been purchased it would have just sat there surrounded by fence. Not much better than an empty lot in my estimation. Were you planning on buying it and turning it into a park?

Agree with others though, TOT is hardly a "public benefit."

22 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Why not build a hotel that conforms to zoning? Or should we just ignore the zoning when it suits the developer's interests? In that case, why bother with zoning at all? Especially if we're going to give the developer whatever he wants as soon as he whimpers a little.

12 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

NO contest:

nice try. You going to buy the property and figure out how to make a profit out of the purchase? Or just throw rocks at those that are willing to put THEIR capital at risk? If you were willing to put your money where your mouth is I might take you seriously. Don't forget, those "evil developers" probably built your house. And it wouldn't have happened if they hadn't been willing to put their capital at risk.

Everyone loves to demonize developers, yet they are the ones that actually build everything. Including the homes the demonizers live in.

14 people like this
Posted by Eloise Nguyen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 6:33 pm

The amount of entitlement in these comments is astounding! Menlo Park gets $600,000 in new revenue, and people object because the developer didn't have to, what, bleed?

Let's think this through- if the Commission didn't grant the bonus, what are the possible outcomes? Best case scenario is the developer builds a smaller hotel, but that just reduces Menlo Park's revenue. Happy? Worst case, the property sits vacant for years to come. What does that accomplish?

The Commission got it right. Look at the outcomes, not your dogma!

22 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 7:21 pm

For those of you miffed by the public bonus decision, you can appeal it to Council as the ink is not dry. Put your belly-achin' where your mouth is.

As long as the beer is cheap in the restaurant, I'm all for it.

Public Benefit is not defined in the Specific Plan. So it could be some nice door handles on the entry that can be seen in traffic from ECR, or it could be a large brown envelope with $1M in it. It's up to the Council, the PC and the City Attorney to define/agree it. But look at it in terms of what the project is inherently contributing: Traffic? not much. Tax Revenue? tons. Vibrancy and Salubriousness? yep. Filling a big need? yes again.

Compare that to an office: Traffic during rush hour? Oh Yeah! Tax Revenue? zilch! Vibrancy? maybe. Fills a Need? Maybe gets people working where they live, which is a good thing.

So offices should expect the lion's share of 'money off the top' for their public benefit contribution. I think it's different with hotels.

10 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Apr 19, 2016 at 10:38 pm

A fair deal and a great day for Menlo Park.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2016 at 11:48 am

If the hotel wasn't at the public benefit level, it would have been 35% smaller and paid $200k less in taxes to the city every year.

I'm pretty happy for the city to turn empty air into $200k/year in perpetuity. I can think of a lot of good that $200k/year could do for Menlo Park. Want a tunnel under the train tracks connecting Linfield Oaks to Allied Arts? Want grade separation to fix the gridlock at Ravenswood and save lives? Want to give downtown a facelift with wider sidewalks and nicer landscaping?

Now we have money to do some of those things.

12 people like this
Posted by No contest
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Keep in mind, the TOT is not a public benefit. Any money collected will go into the general fund and -- according to the planning commissioner I asked -- will most likely be used to hire another planner or two for the planning department.

For a Rust Belt town, we sure seem to have a lot of people wanting to build new projects!

I notice that no one has ventured to answer my prior questions, so I can only infer that you are all fine with ignoring zoning as long as it brings the city money. Does the same hold true for your neighborhood, or do you think zoning should apply there? Will anyone object if I add another two stories to my home and start renting out hotel suites? I could use the extra cash and I'll be paying more in taxes too!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 21, 2016 at 9:58 am

Great news!

4 people like this
Posted by menlo resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 23, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Can you count the number of times in this Almanac thread (and so many others) that posters dis, mock, insult, demonize, bully and simply lie to anyone with the nerve to challenge yet another Menlo Park give-away without any proven public benefit? Just assert whatever you want. "Entitlement"? The pot calling the kettle black. You need look no further than some of these comments, where some people make it abundantly clear that their personal gain is more important than the people it impacts.

I guess this means residents are free to ignore zoning laws as long as we pay our property tax.

No Contest has it right.

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm

The city council sets up policies around zoning and the exceptions permitted. Menlo Park residents vote for who is on the city council to decide these policies on their behalf. As with every government policy, there is no solution that will satisfy all stakeholders. The council tries to find a solution that is fair and maximizes benefits for the property owner, the direct neighbors, and the overall community.

If you do not find this exception acceptable, I would suggest bringing this subject up to the council members and city staff.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 2, 2016 at 3:00 pm

To those of you commenting on zoning, such as "No contest": you seem to be missing the point of the overly restrictive zoning requirements in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and similar communities. The zoning regulations actually are more restrictive than what people or city government want to allow to be built. The point is to give the city control over what the developers build. Most development projects in Menlo Park don't make sense financially without zoning variances. So developers who want to do business need to petition for zoning variances. This allows city government (and indirectly, the voters who that government represents) to exercise more control over the projects than would otherwise be possible.

In this case, and almost every commercial development, the city was able to use the leverage of a zoning variance to influence many aspects of this project. You ask the question "why bother with zoning at all?" BECAUSE ZONING ALLOWS THE CITY TO THREATEN TO NOT LET THE DEVELOPER BUILD A VIABLE PROJECT AND THUS THE CITY GAINS CONTROL OVER THE DEVELOPER. The system is working exactly as intended here.

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

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