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Sharon Green apartment renovations approved

 

Plans to renovate the 18-building Sharon Green apartment complex were unanimously approved by the Menlo Park Planning Commission on Sept. 12.

The plans for the 296-apartment complex, located at 350 Sharon Park Drive in Menlo Park's Sharon Heights neighborhood, include major exterior changes, minor interior renovations, and modifications to "accessory" buildings on the 15.6-acre site.

The apartments were completed in 1970, according to Dave Ruth, director of capital projects at Maximus Real Estate. Maximus bought the property in December 2015 for what could be a record on the Peninsula: $245 million, or $828,000 per unit.

The plans reflect the new owner's intentions to "(transform) this nearly 50-year-old property into a modern, 21st-century garden community," Mr. Ruth said.

Building exteriors will be redone, and inside, the walls will be repainted, and appliances and fixtures swapped out for more energy-efficient and low-flow models.

Apartments would get their own washers and dryers, and the three laundry buildings would be converted into areas with kitchens and seating areas for residents to use to host parties, according to Kaitlin Meador, Menlo Park associate planner.

Landscape changes include the construction of an "adventure playground" for kids, a new courtyard with barbecues and furniture near the pool, and an open turf area and bocce ball court, according to Ms. Meador.

The pool, spa and tennis courts will be revamped, and one tennis court will be converted into a basketball court, she said. The on-site clubhouse will undergo renovations, with an expanded fitness area and social area, including a natural-gas fireplace, according to Mr. Ruth.

Speakers at the Sept. 12 Planning Commission meeting said they're worried about rent increases following the renovations, and the environmental impacts of felling 61 trees, 39 of which are considered heritage trees.

Rent increases

Athena Ierokomos, a Stanford graduate student who lives in a Sharon Green apartment, told the commission that due to Stanford's housing crunch, students usually only get one to two years of campus housing. The Sharon Green apartments are one of the few areas in safe biking distance of the university, she said.

Though she said the proposed renovations are necessary, she added that she is worried about the renovations increasing rents. Her apartment has four working adults living in two bedrooms and they have experienced "rent rises that are beyond what we can sustain," she said. "We cannot afford a rent increase."

The renovations are expected to be done in phases. While tenants will not be allowed to live in their apartments while they are being renovated, many residents will have an option to temporarily live in another apartment on the site, Mr. Ruth said. They will be given the first chance to return, but rents are expected to rise.

"Since rents reflect the market, it is not possible to know what the market rates will be in the future," he said.

Currently, rents range from $3,200 a month for an 810-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment to $5,550 for a 1,466-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment, according to the Sharon Green apartments website.

"We know it's a sensitive issue that families are dealing with," said Commissioner Drew Combs. "There isn't anything for us to do," he responded. "In Menlo Park, we don't have rent stabilization or rent control. ... Those mechanisms don't exist."

Trees

Other speakers raised concerns about the number of trees to be cut down.

"Do all these trees really need to be removed?" asked Anda Hall.

Siegfried Schoen and Aruni Nawayakkara, previous residents of the Sharon Green apartments, encouraged the Planning Commission to consider following recommendations made by the city's environmental quality commission, which included precautions to protect trees not yet qualifying for "heritage tree" protections, and to replace trees at greater than a 1:1 rate.

Mr. Ruth said the developer had worked with its consulting arborist group, Arborwell, but said there is an overcrowding problem with the trees. One-third of the trees proposed for removal are considered "imminent dangers" because they are growing into sidewalks or sewer lines, he said. Of the 39 heritage trees onsite, he said, many are simply in the "wrong" location.

The Planning Commission granted an architectural control permit for the project on a 6-0 vote with Commissioner John Onken absent.

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