Tonight: Menlo Park council could act on general plan update


The end is in sight. Maybe. Menlo Park's City Council spent Nov. 15, at its first of two scheduled meetings, ironing out wrinkles in the city's general plan update, listening to comments, asking questions and giving feedback.

There are still some wrinkles, though, and it remains to be seen whether the council on Nov. 29 will be able to wrap up what has been a two-plus-year process to decide what should be allowed to be built in the city.

The continued public hearing on the general plan is the fourth item on the council's agenda at its Tuesday, Nov. 29 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.

Here is the staff report on the general plan, which can take a minute or two to download.

The proposed changes are the culmination of at least 65 meetings beginning over two years ago, said Placeworks consultant Charlie Knox, who has led the project with city planner Deanna Chow.

"We've had a lot of people who have stuck with us through meeting after meeting," Mr. Knox said.

Menlo Park's general plan has not been updated since 1994. The updates factor in potential regional changes and city growth through 2040.

As proposed, the changes would allow to be built in the city's M-2 area (roughly bounded by San Francisco Bay, University Avenue, U.S. 101 and Marsh Road): 2.3 million square feet of nonresidential development, 4,500 housing units and 400 hotel rooms.

The plan sets specific standards for how things get built. One aspect of that is the proposed sustainability component, which would require new water recycling infrastructure and that buildings in the flood plain area be built 24 inches above the ground.

An environmental impact report, detailing how the environment could be affected by such development, found that the biggest adverse impacts would occur if nothing get built beyond what's already allowed, Mr. Knox said. That's because of the significant regional growth in development and traffic.

If more housing isn't built closer to where the jobs are, traffic is going to get worse, Mr. Knox said. And the zoning would require that developers provide "community amenities" in Belle Haven if they want to build in excess of certain limits.

The wish list of amenities includes: a grocery store with a pharmacy, a better network of sidewalks and bike lanes, landscaping and tree planting, job training and educational programs for local residents, and underground power lines.

The biggest request, though, is for something to be done about congestion along the Dumbarton corridor. Though a study is underway now to examine short- and long-term options, any changes will be more expensive than the city of Menlo Park can handle alone, even with developer fees.

The City Council, later in its Nov. 15 meeting, decided to set up a subcommittee of council members Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller to look at ways to generate political support and funding. One idea is to work with other cities and stakeholders to hire a lobbyist to attract state and federal funding.

Speakers who addressed the council at the meeting frequently raised concerns about future development exacerbating the city's existing transportation and housing problems, and the development's potential environment impact on wildlife.

One request, by Keith Ogden of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, was that office development only be allowed in phases, after a certain amount of housing is built. Mr. Knox cautioned against that, because doing so could deter developers or leave them waiting to build for a long time.

Another request, by Councilman Ray Mueller, was that the general plan more clearly identify what big capital improvements will be needed to improve infrastructure in the M-2 area, and how those might be funded. Councilwoman Catherine Carlton was absent from the meeting.

Questions by council members are expected to receive staff responses at the council's Nov. 29 meeting.

See releated guest opinion, More work needed on general plan before approval.

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Like this comment
Posted by PX
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm

What's the point of doing a general plan when it will be ignored by council? A big developer like Facebook will show up with a project that will totally exceed the limits in the plan and council will happily approve it if the developer throws a little bit of money to the city. This general plan exercise makes all the activists feel as if they've been heard, but it's entirely meaningless.

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