News

Facebook submits revised plans for Willow Village

 
An illustrated site map of the proposed Willow Village development, a 59-acre redevelopment project by Facebook in eastern Menlo Park. (Image courtesy Facebook/Signature Development Group.)

Facebook submitted updated plans this morning (Feb. 8) for Willow Village, a proposal by the company to build 1.75 million square feet of office space, 1,500 housing units, up to 200,000 square feet of retail space, and a hotel with 200 to 250 rooms on a 60-acre parcel currently occupied by about 1 million square feet of office and warehouse buildings.

While the raw numbers of the project remain unchanged from Facebook's initial proposal in July 2017, the configuration of space on the site has been revised. Instead of having a number of small, publicly accessible mini-parks, Facebook proposes to build a 4-acre public park with recreation fields and a kids' play area at the southwest corner of the site, near Willow Road and Mid-Peninsula High School.

In addition, a proposed full-service grocery store and pharmacy have been moved closer to Belle Haven, a lower-income neighborhood located opposite of Willow Road from the proposed development. The revised plans also include dedicated bike lanes and wide sidewalks for pedestrians, while promising "better integration" between the proposed office buildings and the retail and residential buildings. It would also have a "town square" gathering area.

John Tenanes, Facebook's vice president of global facilities and real estate, said in an interview that the Oakland-based Signature Development Group, led by president Michael Ghielmetti, will take the project through the approval process, public outreach and buildout.

While the buildings would be on the taller side for Menlo Park – within the city's new guidelines of up to 85 feet - Ghielmetti said, "This isn't going to feel like San Francisco or downtown Oakland. It's a new neighborhood in Menlo Park."

Tenanes said that the reason Facebook went quiet on the project over the last year is because the team was searching for a developer for the site.

"In the concept, I think we had all the right ingredients," Tenanes said. "We've been in Menlo Park for eight years, and this project is an extension of what we talked about when we first got here."

Several elements in the proposal are based on requests that Facebook has heard from local residents since 2011, when the company and the city co-sponsored a "design charrette" to envision how to create a "sense of place" connecting Facebook, then limited to the former Sun Microsystems campus, with the Belle Haven neighborhood and other businesses near Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway.

During that process and those that followed, residents voiced interest in more housing, greener buildings, better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and better connectivity to the Bay Trail, Tenanes said.

That preliminary meeting was followed by a yearslong process with hours of community meetings to update Menlo Park's general plan, which was approved in December 2016 and massively increased what developers are permitted to build on the city's eastern side, where Facebook is one of the largest landholders.

Since Willow Village was first proposed, Facebook has collected feedback from the community, including through the Planning Commission and City Council study sessions, as well as a series of public town hall meetings on the proposal.

Transportation

The most obvious challenge Willow Village faces in the approval process is the traffic problem. The site is bordered on two sides by the gridlocked Willow Road and the defunct Dumbarton rail corridor, leaving little space for additional traffic. While Facebook While Facebook has a strong track record of getting employees to commute by modes other than solo driving, some argue that the transportation infrastructure isn't there to allow thousands of new residents and workers.

In response, Tenanes and Ghielmetti noted that the the traffic is regional. "Facebook building here or not building here, candidly, does not change the regional traffic," Ghielmetti said.

Facebook is currently working with SamTrans and the Plenary Group on an environmental and fiscal analysis to evaluate a set of alternatives for a reinstated transbay rail line along the Dumbarton rail corridor.

However, Tenanes and Ghielmetti emphasized that the rail project would require collaboration from local, regional, state and federal agencies, and would have a longer entitlement process than the Willow Village development.

Facebook also plans to consider overpasses or underpasses at traffic choke points on Willow Road, they said, noting that environmental analysis and further studies need to be done before specific locations would be determined.

In addition, Tenanes explained, the development itself may enable more connectivity through the area than exists now.

"I think this plan is more porous than what exists today," he said.

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller said in a written statement that he didn't want to give a "cheerleader quote" in response to the updated project. "There are many great benefits that a project like this can bring to a community, but there are also complex challenges."

"It’s time to roll up our sleeves and dive in and determine what’s real," he continued. "The outcome will be determined by the clarity of our vision, the conviction we maintain in our shared values, the availability and adequacy of supporting infrastructure investment, and importantly, our attention to detail. That being said, Facebook's expressed commitment to support regional evaluation of traffic congestion relief infrastructure projects in proximity to the project, such as Bayfront Expressway grade separations and Dumbarton Rail, are great first steps.”

Jobs and housing

Willow Village as proposed would have 1,500 housing units, 225 of which would be designated for below-market-rate rent by members of the public. Whether the other housing units would be intended for rent only by Facebook employees has not yet been determined, according to Tenanes.

It's also not yet known how many new employees would be expected to work in the 1.75 million square feet of office space planned.

The site currently has about 3,000 employees working in 1 million square feet of office space, Tenanes and Ghielmetti said.

Grocery store and retail space

One request that the city heard often from Belle Haven residents in the years of the ConnectMenlo general plan update was for a full-service grocery store, a pharmacy and a bank branch.

Ghielmetti emphasized an interest in unique, local retail and community-serving spaces on the ground floor of the buildings of the development – restaurants, cafes, fitness areas, a pharmacy, and a grocery store. Other, more outside-of-the-box options, he added, would be things like makerspaces, co-working spaces or artisan workshops.

"The greater the variety of uses, the greater the variety of people and activity and energy that are in these areas," he said. In past experiences, he added, working with local businesses has helped to connect both existing and new residents to the area.

"We want this to work. The success of the community isn't the last dollar for an individual retail space," Ghielmetti said. "We will commit to work with the local neighbors so that there's a diversity of products and a diversity of businesses that are reflective of the community."

"I think you can count on Facebook as you have in the past to make sure this works," Tenanes said.

Ghielmetti said that Signature Development Group has a track record of bringing desired services – such as a grocery store or bank branch – into "neighborhoods largely passed over."

The developer is behind The Hive -- a mixed-use development in Oakland with offices, retail and residential space -- and other developments in Oakland, as well as the Fair Oaks Transit Village in Sunnyvale.

He added that, in the developer's experience, retail tenants moved in at a later stage in the development process after residents and some office workers had already occupied the site.

Next steps

Now that the updated plans have been submitted, Facebook plans to collect more feedback, launch the environmental review process, and initiate architectural designs.

"Our desire is for leadership to approve the project sometime next year (in 2020)," Ghielmetti said. From there, the project will be developed in phases, and construction would occur in the years to follow.

Facebook has created a website with additional information about the project at willowvillage.com.

Three public meetings have been scheduled for people to learn more about the updated plans:

● Thursday, February 28, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Menlo Park Senior Center at 110 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park.

● Wednesday, March 13, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the East Palo Alto Senior Center at 560 Bell St. in East Palo Alto.

● Saturday, March 30, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center at 700 Alma St. in Menlo Park.

Access additional information on the project webpage on the Menlo Park city website.

What do you think of the revised plans? Email Almanac reporter Kate Bradshaw at kbradshaw@almanacnews.com.

--

Sign up for Almanac Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or show your support for local journalism by subscribing.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

31 people like this
Posted by First address traffic
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2019 at 1:35 pm

First address traffic and transportation, then build. After the rail corridor is developed and there’s adequate infrastructure, schools, transportation improvement then Facebook can develop, not the other way around. Residents shouldn’t be caught in traffic nightmare and have to wait decades till the issues are addressed


2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 8, 2019 at 4:40 pm

But it's Facebook, and they usually get what they want.....


8 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Same concern as those for the Greystar project.
Are all these multi-story buildings near the Bay impacting the weather in the rest of MP? It's the breezes off the Bay which have helped make our summers and early fall bearable. What sort of impact do all these structures have on our temperatures and air quality? Environmental Impact Reports which take into account weather and air impacts should be required. Unfortunately I don't believe that was done with the large Bohannon project. It should be requirement with all planned structures over 25' tall.


16 people like this
Posted by Where's the Housing
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2019 at 5:31 pm

So 5,000 workers and 1,500 housing units. Bad math. More housing!


18 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2019 at 5:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Where are the library, the schools and the fire station?


13 people like this
Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2019 at 6:57 pm

I'm with "First address traffic" - all new people have to fix the problems that we oldsters created! No way we're giving up our sweet, sweet Prop 13 subsidies. Traffic is when OTHER people drive, not when I do it!!


2 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2019 at 6:53 am

Another Facebook Project that needs Council approval? Well, at least 3 council members can vote....2 have an interest either contributions to an foundation or employment. The question is "will the other council members vote to help residents, and address traffic concerns first? I have confidence in the other 3....fingers crossed!!!


8 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 9, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Boomer,

How about the new "people" wanting to add massive new housing prevent the problem from getting worse and do their part to make the community a better place for everyone? Too much to ask (well too bad). That area needs a new library, a full service bank and a full size grocery store. The residents of this new "Village" will add lots of traffic to already congested streets, yes even if they work at Facebook. What are the plans to mitigate that impact?

As for your Prop 13 quip, there are no "subsidies". Anyone who owns property benefits from prop 13, even if they only bought a few years ago because it keeps their taxes from skyrocketing every year.


Like this comment
Posted by climate change is coming to Facebook
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:07 am

Anyone else concerned that that whole area will be under sea-level in 50-70 years? And who will be paying for the damage and rebuilding over and over again? (not that they should, but if the past is any predictor of the future....)


2 people like this
Posted by climate change is coming to Facebook
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:27 am

Remember this map of 3-6' local sea rise?
Web Link

And this interactive map
Web Link

Web Link

From what I can surmise, scientists expect at least a foot rise in the next 30 years, and 3 feet by 2100, which will lead to further storm flooding. More extreme (but possible) scenarios expect 5-10 feet sea level rise by 2100.

So if the town approves anything that doesn't accommodate for this rise, there will be billions of completely predicted damage.

And to the other comments, the balance of housing to office space is way off. Facebook should build enough housing for all increases in employees/contractors/others.


1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 10, 2019 at 4:41 pm

"Brian", how dare you frame my remarks as a "quip"? I'm as serious as a heart attack, and I should know since I've had several.

I can't stay mad at you, though, since I know how hard you work to keep our community protected from change. How lucky are we to have arrived in Menlo Park at _exactly_ the right time?

Keep responding- I love the attention and amplification!


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,161 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,388 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,293 views

Good News: The New Menlo Park Rail Subcommittee Hits A Home Run
By Dana Hendrickson | 12 comments | 1,565 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 819 views

 

Register today!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More