As part of preliminary terms of a development agreement between Stanford and the city of Menlo Park, Stanford officials have said the university will pay for half of the cost – up to a maximum of $5 million – to build a tunnel or overpass to allow safe crossing of the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue in Menlo Park.
The Menlo Park City Council is expected to consider the terms of the development agreement for Stanford's proposed project a 500 El Camino Real at its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
Under the proposed agreement, the city will administer the crossing project, but Stanford will help pay for it. A study by consultants from the transportation firm AECOM to develop preliminary designs for the crossing is in progress.
The university also agreed to provide additional below-market-rate housing – a total of 10 units, two or three units beyond what is required as part of the city's below-market-rate ordinance – and to donate $1 million, or $100,000 for 10 years, to the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation.
The council subcommittee, made up of council members Peter Ohtaki and Ray Mueller, is not currently recommending that the council approve all of the terms of the development agreement. The subcommittee has requested that Stanford provide an additional $500,000 to the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation.
The council may also consider requesting that five of the 10 below-market-rate apartments be offered rental priority to teachers in the Menlo Park City School District, according to Chip Taylor, assistant city manager.
The preliminary agreement also stipulates that the public have access to a plaza proposed at the development from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
The offer comes as the university is preparing for a hearing that could grant final approval to its proposed project. The whole project is expected to face final review by the Planning Commission on Monday, Aug. 28, and by the City Council after that. Final environmental documents can be accessed here.
The university has proposed to build 215 one- and two-bedroom apartments at the site, plus three office buildings totaling 144,000 square feet, and 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
The project will also have a large public plaza that is expected to have seating, movable furniture, landscaping and a flexible space for events, plus 930 parking spots in an underground parking garage and on surface space.
Some have argued that the city should negotiate a hard bargain because Stanford won't have to pay property taxes on buildings used for academic purposes, which includes the apartments that will be rented to Stanford faculty and staff.
Stanford technically isn't required to do a development agreement – typically, those are needed only when a developer proposes to build at a higher level of density beyond a "base" level – but the process helped to pinpoint exactly what the university's commitment would be toward the bike and pedestrian Caltrain crossing. For years, the university had said it would "contribute significantly" to the costs of the project.
Steve Elliott, Stanford's managing director of development, said that over the last four and a half years since the project was submitted, "a lot of issues have come up," but that those issues have been addressed. "Will there be others that come up until (the project is) finally approved? Probably. But we feel confident we've presented a project the community's going to love," said Mr. Elliott.
Stanford officials Jean McCown, John Donohoe and Steve Elliott met with the Almanac to discuss some of the ongoing concerns locals have with the project.
On the transportation front, Mr. Elliott said, the expected traffic from the project is about one-third less than what was projected in an environmental analysis conducted at the time the city's downtown specific plan was developed.
From previous iterations of the project, Stanford has increased the amount of housing, eliminated medical office space and decreased the amount of office space, he said, all steps that reduce the number of trips the development's tenants are expected to generate.
Stanford also charges for parking on-campus, which gives commuters extra incentive to find another way to work, Ms. McCown said. University employees also get Go Passes, which are free Caltrain passes, and can take Stanford buses that travel throughout the area, including across the Bay, she noted.
The types of tenants for the new office buildings are expected to be comparable to those on Middlefield or Sand Hill roads in Menlo Park and likely to be in the venture capital or private equity industries, Mr. Elliott said.
In a separate hearing held Aug. 23, the Housing Commission voted 3-2 to recommend that the Planning Commission approve Stanford's proposal to meet its below-market-rate housing requirement by providing 10 one-bedroom apartments to the city's below-market-rate housing supply. (Commissioners Michelle Tate and Meg McGraw-Scherer were opposed, commissioner Nevada Merriman recused herself because her husband works for Stanford, and commissioner Julianna Dodick was absent.) The units will be restricted to rent by low-income tenants, said Jim Cogan, housing and economic development manager in Menlo Park.
The 10-unit below-market-rate housing total was calculated based on the following: five or six from the commercial space proposed at 500 El Camino Real, two from commercial space Stanford proposes to develop at 2131 El Camino Real, and an additional two to three units resulting from negotiations between the city and the university in the development agreement.
Housing commissioners who opposed the below-market-rate housing agreement said they wanted some of the dedicated BMR units to be larger apartments, to offer lower-income families access to Menlo Park schools; they also wanted more of them.
"This is basically a situation where (the developer) is following the rules," said Commissioner McGraw-Scherer, citing the development's prime location for affordable housing, near transit and downtown. "I just don't like the results."
The other apartments, Mr. Elliott said, are likely to be rented at below market rate to Stanford faculty and staff but will not be part of the city's BMR program.
The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. for its regular business on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at the City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center. Access the meeting agenda here or stream it online here.