About the author: Patti Fry, a longtime resident of Menlo Park, is a former member of the city's Planning Commission.
By Patti Fry
The long-vacant Cadillac dealership site on El Camino Real is due to be revitalized. The location is central to Menlo Park and adjacent to downtown. Most residents would like to see the blight replaced by a great project, but Greenheart Land Company's "Station 1300" falls far short of that ideal.
The proposed project, while attractive, significantly worsens Menlo Park's traffic congestion and housing shortage. It is located on nearly 6.5 acres near the train station and downtown, on the stretch of El Camino Real that already has the worst downtown traffic jams.
Any development there will worsen traffic, but the proposed project would have substantially more negative impacts than viable alternatives.
The project's recently published draft environmental impact report (DEIR) tells us that the project, as currently configured, would significantly worsen rush-hour traffic at 11 already-congested intersections and roadways from El Camino to Bayfront Expressway. It also tells us that there are no feasible measures available to fully alleviate those impacts. These additional adverse impacts were not anticipated when the downtown specific plan was adopted.
The DEIR explains that a housing-intensive project would have far fewer traffic impacts than an office-intensive project, and would be appropriate for a location near the train station area and downtown. But instead of providing as many as the 322 housing units that are allowed within the downtown plan's limits, the project offers only 181 new homes to balance the 700 to 1,000 new workers in this office-intensive project.
A good mix of restaurant, retail, and personal services would contribute to downtown vibrancy and help the tenants of the project avoid automobile use, but the developer designed only 4 percent of the project as "community serving space." The wording of the Greenheart proposal is so vague that this space could be used for restaurants or retail or could be rented for business-oriented services that don't serve residents.
We learned from the city's consultants that a housing-intensive project has fewer negative impacts than an office-intensive project. We also found out that the developer's potential return on investment is at least three times the current market range. There is ample room for our City Council to negotiate a project that is much better for Menlo Park and its residents.
Now is the time to get the project right. This is a once-in-a generation opportunity. The project is still in its conceptual design phase, when plan modifications can be easily made.
The ingredients for a better and great project exist. Residents should insist on it.