News

Menlo Park Planning Commission endorses Greenheart's El Camino complex

 

A proposed development at 1300 El Camino Real by local developer, Greenheart Land Co., has cleared the second to last hurdle in Menlo Park's approval process, winning an endorsement from the city's Planning Commission on a 6-0 vote (with commissioner Susan Goodhue absent) on Dec. 12.

The approval process – called an "Icelandic saga" by Greenheart principal developer Steve Pierce for its glacial pace – appears closer than ever to a conclusion: receiving permission to begin the two-plus-year process to build 420,000 square feet of offices, housing and retail space in downtown Menlo Park.

The last hurdle is to get final approval from the Menlo Park City Council, which is expected to review it early in 2017.

The project, originally submitted to the city in 2013, has had some modifications, but as it now stands today, would have up to 204,000 square feet of offices, 183 rental apartments, and up to 29,000 square feet of "community serving" space – for uses such as shops, restaurants, personal services and banks. The development would have a two-story underground parking garage and a small amount of surface parking adding about 991 spots.

Of the 183 rental apartments, 98 would be one-bedroom units, 77 would have two bedrooms, and eight would have three bedrooms.

The office buildings would be three stories tall and the residential building, four stories. Most of the parking would be underground, leaving open space between buildings for a courtyard with an amphitheater-type area and outdoor dining.

Since Greenheart wants to build more than the base amount of development allowed under the city's specific plan for the downtown area, the company had to negotiate with the city and agree to provide benefits that will serve Menlo Park residents. As part of the development agreement, which the City Council has approved, Greenheart would give $2.1 million to a Menlo Park "public benefits" fund, guarantee $83,700 a year in sales tax revenue for the city, market the office space to tech incubator-type entities (to try to get more "innovative" businesses in town), and build and maintain a public-access dog park.

The developer would also provide 20 apartments to renters below market rate – 14 will be for low-income tenants and six for "workforce" housing (renters who make 100 to 120 percent of the median income).

Greenheart has proposed to cut down 59 heritage trees and plant 99 new trees. The city usually requires new trees be planted at a two-to-one ratio when existing heritage trees are felled. Instead, the developer said the 99 new trees will be larger than required, a step approved by the city arborist, according to a staff report.

The Planning Commission's discussion focused on details: whether a curb should be changed here; whether the arched entries were big enough; what after-hours security would be like on the site. To the latter question, Mr. Pierce responded that Greenheart would be in charge of security for the public access areas and the private residential areas.

Of the members of the public who commented on the project, seven supported it, and two expressed reservations about specific impacts the development could have.

Criticism

Former Planning Commissioner Vincent Bressler said the project shouldn't be approved because of the danger it could cause by bringing much more traffic so close to the Oak Grove and Glenwood avenue railroad crossings.

Greenheart's Mr. Pierce said that nothing in the project's design would prevent the city from moving ahead with any of the options it's considering for "grade separations" – separating the roadway from the track it crosses.

Menlo Park is studying three options: (1) running Ravenswood Avenue under the Caltrain tracks; (2) separating Ravenswood and Oak Grove avenues from the tracks by raising the rails and tunneling the road underneath; (3) adding the Glenwood Avenue crossing to option 2.

In an email sent before the meeting, former planning commissioner Patti Fry said she wants to see more public benefits from the project, more housing, a trip cap on the development, and more clarity about the kinds of businesses included under the category of "community-serving uses."

Support

Supporters of the project appeared to agree that it is time for the development to move forward. The project complies with the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan, speaker Skip Hilton told the commission, and could help create the vibrancy envisioned by the plan. The goals of the plan, he said, have not "really come to fruition."

"We've seen what Redwood City has built, and frankly, I'm a little jealous," Menlo Park resident Joe Moeller said. "To think we might be able to have this in our community – it's a pretty exciting thing."

Several commissioners pointed out that they had already seen the project several times before and were comfortable with it.

"We have seen this off and on for quite a while," said Commissioner John Onken. "There has been more than due diligence on this."

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 13, 2016 at 12:37 pm

I think the writer of the story should have included comments by one of the Menlo Park residents who spoke at the meeting last night. This gentleman had concerns about the proximity of the railroad crossing at Oak Grove to the main access street in and out of the project. This is a very legitimate concern. Even though I live very close by and cross the tracks at Oak Grove many times a week, I drove by the Derry/Garwood Way/Oakgrove intersection after the meeting and can not imagine what it will be like to have hundreds of vehicles entering or leaving Oak Grove every day at Garwood Way. This is going to be a very dangerous intersection and apparently there will be no signal as this was determined to not be possible because of the short distance from Garwood Way to the tracks. None of the planning commissioners seemed to be concerned, but they should be. I support this project, but access and safety is a very big problem.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Subsequent to your post, we added to the story comments made by speakers at the meeting.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm

We live in the San Francisco/San Jose metro area and as such, we will deal with the traffic that is associated with the strong and vibrant area in which we live. It is up to all of us, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, to behave responsibly while driving, cycling, walking, or perhaps just reading our messages on our respective phones. Development happens. We all need to adapt and comply for the good of all of us.


1 person likes this
Posted by Property Owner
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 13, 2016 at 1:29 pm

It's about time that we move forward with quality projects like this one. We need more housing and this is the ideal place for it; walking distance to retail, jobs and public transit. Hats off to the City and the developer for the well-conceived project and pushing it ahead. Make Menlo Great Again!


4 people like this
Posted by School Parent
a resident of Encinal School
on Dec 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Is anyone worried about this project's impact on schools, namely Encinal?


6 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2016 at 4:17 pm

With the exception of Facebook's campus housing, all new housing will have an impact on schools. We can't have it both ways- demanding more housing and then wondering where we put the kids.

Or just keep building subsidized senior housing...


4 people like this
Posted by Casey
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 13, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Two questions

1. What will be done about the 25% increase in traffic as identified in the EIR? Are we just stuck with that?

2. Who owns Greenheart?


15 people like this
Posted by the Wall
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 13, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Of course the developers are going to say whatever needs to be said to get approval, but the fact is that this project eliminates all options for railroad crossings other than an elevated track. Even though residents have repeatedly said they don't want it, that's what we're going to get.


"Make Menlo great again." "We need to adapt and comply..."

Surprised to see that? You shouldn't be. George Orwell only missed the mark by a few decades.


8 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2016 at 9:23 pm

@Wall:

I may be wrong, but i think the project only works with the tracks at grade and not elevated because of the way Garwood spits out. Good luck to those folks fortunate to live next to the tracks with trains blasting through.

Let's all push back against this over-kill idea of building up the tracks through town, making us an even more divided city!


1 person likes this
Posted by School Parent
a resident of Encinal School
on Dec 14, 2016 at 9:09 am

@really?,

I guess what I am struggling with is why it needs to be binary: housing or schools, not both. Why aren't we, as a community, demanding more help for our schools? They're the cornerstone of our community, and right now need is high. I noticed the Station 1300 developer has pledged $2.1 million as a community benefit gift to the City in exchange for more office and housing, which will invariably impact our schools. Why wouldn't they structure a similar benefit, or at least a portion of that $2.1, to be directed to the school district to offset those impacts? The Station 1300 ECR EIR itself says all our elementary schools are over capacity and it will send dozens of students into the district, and yet there is no accommodation other than the woefully inadequate Senate Bill 50 payment, which is capped across the state without regard to each school district's cost of living index.

It just surprises me that this innovative and caring community hasn't or can't come up with a creative solution that is a win-win-win for the developer, City, and the schools.


Like this comment
Posted by another parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 14, 2016 at 9:19 am

@SchoolParent: Cities aren't allowed to give money directly to school districts. Earlier this year Councilmember Mueller actually offered a way to get around this rule to help the Ravenswood School District saying the City could create a third party called a JPA. The City could give money to the JPA which could then be redistributed to the Ravenswood School District. Maybe the idea could be expanded to help all the Menlo Park schools?


1 person likes this
Posted by Senior
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 14, 2016 at 11:20 am

Senior housing would be a win. No schools impact.
Instead this has offices aimed at startup youngsters who need many more apartments than this provides, worsening the local shortage.


1 person likes this
Posted by School Parent
a resident of Encinal School
on Dec 14, 2016 at 11:38 am

@another parent,

Thanks for your response. I understand that cities are not permitted to require developers to compensate their local school districts as a condition of approving projects. The JPA is an interesting idea, but I am suggesting something more simple: that the constituents of the City Council -you and me- could demand that a developer voluntarily enter into an independent agreement with the local school districts to provide benefits or mitigations subject to the City Council approving their project. They could take the time to understand what the true impacts of their project are and how to provide a comprehensive solution for the entire community, as opposed to asking us to grin and bear it as more kids enter the classroom and revenue per child decreases. What an excellent show of good faith that would be by a developer, and I am sure community members would show their appreciation and support of the project as their electeds go through the approval process. And if a developer chooses not to pursue this kind of solution for the schools? Constituents should let its electeds know that's not acceptable in this community. With the upcoming parcel tax as the case in point, at the end of the day we are the ones paying for it.

It's true that City Councils are often limited in their ability to approve or deny a project. But very often they have the discretion to make unilateral decisions, for example when a developer pursues bonus-level densities, and in those cases it's okay to say no on the general grounds that a project isn't a fit within its community.

These are simple, pro growth solutions that keep us moving forward while protecting our most sacred assets. An independent agreement with the school districts doesn't need to be a hardship for a developer; they can scale the cost to the benefit of getting broad community support and certainty of approval. And yes, this should be the expectation and community standard for each of MPCSD, Ravenswood and Sequoia Union, depending which would be affected by each individual project.


Like this comment
Posted by another parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm

@schoolparent are you saying you want the City Council to tell a developer their project won't be approved unless they agree to give money to a school district above the school fees already in place and assessed to their land? Are you sure that is legal? That sounds illegal to me.


Like this comment
Posted by School Parent
a resident of Encinal School
on Dec 14, 2016 at 12:25 pm

@another parent, they somehow figured out how to do it in Fremont, Los Gatos, Cupertino...


3 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Late to this discourse: I read last month that Redwood City Council denied a developer who wanted to build large projects on the east side of 101.

They denied it. They said the RC residents didn't want massive, large developments in that area. I was impressed.

Casey - I hope someone answers your questions. My bet is on a development company that's part of a much larger financial entity.


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

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