By Vince Bressler
The proposed Greenheart project occupies a 6.4-acre site that backs up to the train tracks. The property faces El Camino and borders Oak Grove Avenue.
For years, the city has allowed the property to remain abandoned and unkempt, overgrown with weeds. The proposed development would fill this space with over 200,000 square feet of offices, 183 small apartments, and two modest-sized retail spaces, plus underground parking for almost 1,000 cars.
The project includes a significant public plaza in the middle of the office space with no retail, a smaller public plaza at Oak Grove and the tracks, and a small park in back, near the tracks. The "community serving uses" need not be retail but can include business services and banks. These amenities are located on El Camino and Oak Grove, a few feet from traffic, and nowhere near the interior plaza. In fact, the retail spaces provide a noise buffer zone for the offices and housing.
The underground parking lot is about three times the size of the Safeway parking lot. According to the environmental impact report:
● Most Greenheart-bound vehicles will access the lot via Oak Grove at the Garwood Way intersection, right next to the tracks.
● This intersection has been designated grade F, indicating that it is a road with a continuous traffic jam. Travel times cannot be predicted.
● Cars leaving the underground lot will experience a delay of more than two minutes waiting to exit during evening rush hour.
I have waited 10 minutes to get out of the Kinkos/FedEx parking lot at Oak Grove and El Camino during the evening. Now hundreds of drivers will be trying to do the same thing.
The environmental report states that there will be significant impacts on Ravenswood, Glenwood and Oak Grove around El Camino.
This one project is going to make it a lot harder to get across El Camino, and it will affect traffic flows throughout the city.
To accept this project, the City Council must decide that benefits outweigh the impacts. From the perspective of current residents of Menlo Park, here are the benefits:
● Empty car lot and ugly buildings replaced by attractive new buildings.
● Small park near the tracks.
● One plaza in the middle of offices with no shops or restaurants, and a smaller plaza on Oak Grove by the train tracks.
● Thin "retail" strips along Oak Grove and El Camino, which may or may not be used for restaurants or other uses that residents prefer. We know that Greenheart plans to put its own property office here and our development agreement has no teeth to ensure that the space includes any actual community-serving retail.
If this were true mixed-use, then there would be retail at the ground floor throughout the development. What we have are two large office buildings with a connecting courtyard and apartments with a private courtyard. The retail has been shuffled off to the undesirable edges of the project, and we have no process to guarantee that the uses in these retail spaces will serve the public.
A true mixed-use development at this site, with ground floor retail and public access throughout, could transform our downtown. I urge the City Council to reject this project as currently proposed and to push for a true mixed-use project at this site with use permit controls over all the retail.
Vince Bressler was a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission between 2007 and 2015. He chaired the commission during the year the Downtown/El Camino Real Specific Plan was reviewed and adopted.
Another point of view on the Greenheart project.