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Guest opinion: City Council should insist on true mixed-use project on Greenheart site

 

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.

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Enuff
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 23, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Kudos to Vince Bressler for giving us an honest and intelligent appraisal of the Greenheart project.
Our City Council claims to want to promote "vibrancy", which is all about retail, and then approves massive office parks and apartment complexes in our downtown, instead of retail.
This council, and its aggressive staff, will go down in history as the one that destroyed our suburban charm and tranquility, giving us instead overcrowded schools and daily traffic gridlock.
Welcome to Menlo Office-Park.


9 people like this
Posted by The silence is deafening
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 12:48 pm

What are the possible justification for approving this project?

* Conforms to the Specific Plan
* We need to get rid of that vacant lot and those weeds.
* We need the housing.

That's about it. The Specific Plan was sold to the community as a way to transform the downtown. And yet, when all is said and done, we end up with projects that make our life more difficult but do not transform our downtown.


3 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Talk to Jim Cogan, the business development manager of Menlo Park, and you will learn how hard it is to attract new retailers to Santa Cruz Avenue primarily because owners claim there is far too little steady foot traffic. So attracting customers to station 1300 will be a bigger challenge. Perhaps a pub or fine restaurant that serve its offices and residents and attracts others could be successful but I doubt a shop would. The good news? Station 1300 will generate more foot traffic downtown because it within walking distance. This will benefit downtown businesses and hopefully attract even more. So station 1300 will become a major catalyst for improving the vibrancy of downtown. That's how markets work.


7 people like this
Posted by TSID
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Dana - Community serving services and retail, that's what we need and the rents need to be low so that these businesses can thrive. This kind of environment has to be jump started, nurtured, or it will never happen.

This is all about increasing the ROI for Greenheart and business as usual for Menlo Park.


Like this comment
Posted by Exhausted mother
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

WE NEED MORE PARKING SPACES IN MENLO PARK!!!


7 people like this
Posted by TSID
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 23, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Exhausted mother: More parking? Build a garage on Lot2. It's in the specific plan. That way you get more parking but no more cars.

Greenheart is the worst way to parking and in the wrong place as well.


5 people like this
Posted by What about us?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 25, 2016 at 10:19 am

Thank you, Vince, for continuing to press these issues even at the risk of being ostracized by the insiders.

The planning commission and city council have increasingly shifted their focus from the residents they allegedly serve to the profits of developers. The much-touted $2mm payment to the city will barely provide the downpayment for train crossing enhancements. After that, what else do residents get? More traffic, more cars speeding through our streets endangering our kids, and...a coffee kiosk and a place to exercise our dogs by the train tracks?

We've been waiting for years to see this space developed, and for what? Offices. How do those benefit the people who live here, the ones whom the council/commission are supposed to serve? Some people were originally hoping a Whole Foods would move into this complex. Not a chance -- the amount of retail is tiny, and the developers aren't required to devote it to resident-serving uses.

This is a huge project, and it could set the tone for an overhaul of downtown. Crickets. Meanwhile, unless we feel like cruising the thrift stores, we go into Palo Alto for shopping and dining and the city for entertainment. Other than the Pace Gallery and Borrone, there is nothing to attract anyone to Menlo Park.


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 25, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

what about us?:

for the umpteenth time. The project complies with the DSP that took six years to develop. By all means though let's ignore all that years long effort and continue to let those vacant lots sit vacant.


7 people like this
Posted by Vince Bressler
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 25, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Menlo Voter - Yes the project complies with the specific plan, but the impacts do not.


1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 25, 2016 at 7:48 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Vince:

seriously, did no one think that projects built complying with the DSP wouldn't increase traffic? Really? Increased density implies increased traffic.


9 people like this
Posted by Vince Bressler
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 25, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Menlo Voter:

The specific plan had its own environmental impact report which was approved along with the plan. This project has particular impacts well above and beyond those discussed in the specific plan's environmental impact report.

It is the job of the City Council to determine whether those particular impacts should be overlooked in light of the benefits from this project.





12 people like this
Posted by What about us?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 25, 2016 at 8:55 pm

Totally. If a project meets the letter (if not the spirit) of the plan, let's completely overlook the fact that it offers no benefit to residents. That it could be a blight on our community for the next many decades.

Any project built on that site will create more traffic in the most snarled section of town. That's a given. But there should be some offsetting benefit to residents. If you read the article, that's the point: let's not forget about the people who actually live here. If we have to bear the pain, we should get some real benefits, not window dressing.

Right now, our council is in the driver's seat. It's not too late to ask for more, at the very least to insist that the retail be community-serving. Once this thing is built, it will be.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 1:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"For years, the city has allowed the property to remain abandoned and unkempt, overgrown with weeds."

Of course and the same will continue to happen until the city firmly commits to a fixed set of development rules and quits trying to change the game every month.

No wonder the Stanford property will remain vacant for the next five years!


2 people like this
Posted by Changing Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 26, 2016 at 8:12 am

Yes Peter, [part removed]...What rule changes have occurred causing Stanford to delay their project for another five years? Please cite one specific rule change and when it was enacted.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 9:10 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Every single commercial project submitted to the city AFTER the DSP was approved has been subjected to new demands over and above the DSP rules - Greenheart is just the latest example.

Wise property owners do not commit to substantial design costs when the rules are uncertain.

Imagine trying to build a home in a city that was constantly changing the building requirements.

Enjoy the vacant ECR parcels - they will be empty for a very long time.

The great irony will be when Stanford builds all faculty and staff housing and makes all of it property tax exempt.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 9:23 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ps - the city does not have to change the written rules in order to create ambiguity. All it has to do is "interpret" those rules differently every time a new proposal is submitted. Greenheart is a perfect example of the such discretionary interpretations.




Like this comment
Posted by Changing rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 26, 2016 at 9:58 am

Please name one specific rule that has changed or been interpreted differently by the City during this time period?


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:04 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just look at all the changes that Greenheart was "required" to make between its original proposal and the current proposal.

Any property owner watching this every changing "rules" process would turn their development efforts to another community.


Like this comment
Posted by Changing Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:14 am

That Greenheart was required to change its proposal doesn't mean any standard or rule changed. Greenheart simply could have misinterpreted or tried to stretch a rule. Please name one specific rule that has change for been interpreted differently by the City since the Specifc Plan was passed? Also, what evidence do you have Stanford is waiting five more years to develop it's parcels?


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"On a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Ray Mueller opposed, the council agreed Nov. 29 to make major changes in the city's general plan for development. "


Like this comment
Posted by Changing Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:38 am

Because the General Plan was adopted Stanford is going to wait five more years to develop it's parcels?


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:41 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why would Stanford spend a penny on new plans for 500 ECR when the city is constantly changing and reinterpreting the rules?


7 people like this
Posted by Vince Bressler
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:44 am

The false dilemma:

Approve the impacts or we will always have have empty, unkempt lots.

The actual dilemma:

Approve the impacts and we will not have a true mixed use project at this important site in our lifetimes. But we will have the impacts.





4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:46 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Vince proves my point - even impacts that are consistent with the current rules are unacceptable.


5 people like this
Posted by Vince Bressler
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 26, 2016 at 10:51 am

If the impacts were consistent with the current rules, they would not have to be approved.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 11:04 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just imagine if you were a property owner and you listened to the former chair of the planning commission urging that a very reasonable and compliant project not be approved - you would take your investment elsewhere.

[Part removed,]


7 people like this
Posted by Judy Horst
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Dec 26, 2016 at 11:18 am

Peter Carpenter asks what the Vinces want for Menlo Park.

Maybe parks? or less dense developments?

Let's include people in the development equation. Menlo Park (not Menlo Business Park) needs to meet the needs of its citizens by not being overdeveoped.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 11:25 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Menlo Park (not Menlo Business Park) needs to meet the needs of its citizens by not being overdeveoped."

That was the purpose of the YEARS long DSP process - and now a vocal minority is determined to stop implementation of the DSP.

Wise property owners know that MP is not a suitable place to make their investments - which is exactly what the Vinces want.


11 people like this
Posted by What about us?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 26, 2016 at 11:56 am

Right, Peter, a lot of us want to see 1300 El Camino remain a vacant lot, full of weeds and graffiti. I'm surprised that you would be so caustic toward a member of our community who has volunteered thousands of hours of his time on behalf of residents. You don't even live in our city.

The car dealerships were not particularly attractive, but they brought in a ton of revenue. Benefit to the city. Office parks require services, like police fire, but don't generate sales tax or really much of anything other than property taxes -- and anything built there will pay property tax. I personally would love a scaled-down Santana Row on that site. Big win for retail, developers could get their office space and housing too.

Discussions about development need to be seen through the lens of: how does this benefit the people who live here? The council should not justify the project with the fantasy that office workers will shop downtown and make it vibrant. Sorry. Downtown needs a major makeover, and an office project isn't going to make that happen. Oh, right, the project will provide housing for another 200 people -- more residents who will have to travel to Palo Alto or Redwood City to shop because our council was too willing to cave to the developer to get any quid pro quo for us. Major fail all around.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I personally would love a scaled-down Santana Row on that site."

Great. Lease the property from Stanford, pay for a detailed development pan, submit it to the city and recognize that whatever you propose will be opposed by a small vocal group of residents.

BTW - Menlo Park is my downtown where I spend the bulk of my local purchasing dollars and I have volunteered far more hours of community service than any other poster on this forum.


9 people like this
Posted by TSID
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 26, 2016 at 12:38 pm

This thread has gone off the rails and they so often do, in service to the ego of one poster.


Like this comment
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Dec 26, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Richard Hine is a registered user.

Please take a holiday break. See you in the new year.


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

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