A proposal to build a large affordable housing complex in Menlo Park cleared another hurdle on March 12 when the city's Planning Commission gave the project a thumbs-up.
The proposal from MidPen Housing is to redevelop 82 existing affordable apartments on the 1300 block of Willow Road into 140 new affordable apartments.
The proposed project by the nonprofit housing developer would have 66 one-bedroom, 50 two-bedroom and 24 three-bedroom apartments, plus a community room, a landscaped courtyard, an exercise room, a teen room, an after-school program area, two large laundry rooms and other small outdoor spaces, according to a staff report. It would have a total of 177 parking spots.
The proposed development is in an affordable housing overlay zone, so the approval process differs from that required for other developments, according to the report. The director of the Community Development Department will get the final say on whether the project is compliant with city ordinances. Also, the developer won't have to pay planning, building and public works permit fees. The environmental impacts of the project were already considered and signed off on when the city updated its Housing Element in 2013, according to staff.
MidPen Housing has its own property management company that would provide additional services to residents beyond housing, explained Jan Lindenthal, chief real estate development officer at MidPen Housing. Those services might include an after-school program, fitness programs and adult education classes.
All of the tenants at the existing apartments there are classified as very low income, Lindenthal explained, and many have lived there since MidPen Housing acquired the property in 1986.
The buildings are "functionally obsolete," do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, lack air conditioning, and do not have on-site amenities, she said.
MidPen Housing owns the apartments on both the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Willow Road, and recently reorganized the units to redevelop the 1200 block for seniors only. That development has been completed and was renamed "Sequoia Belle Haven." The 1300 block of apartments would be intended for families and non-senior households.
One problem with the current layout of the 1300 block, Lindenthal said, is that the sidewalk cuts inward onto a private frontage road behind a wall on Willow Road, so pedestrian passersby are forced to walk through the private property of residents.
The new development proposal requires the frontage road to be eliminated, which would enable the new apartments to be pushed closer to Willow Road, giving neighbors at the rear of the property on Carlton Avenue more space. A public sidewalk would then be installed along Willow Road "where it belongs, adjacent to the public street," Lindenthal said.
The development would have three segments, with the outer two having four stories, and a three-story segment in the middle. At the rear on the eastern side would be a large community room.
On this project, the Planning Commission doesn't have architectural control to dictate how the development looks, but could provide comments and ask for clarifications. Commissioner John Onken pointed out that the building will be very long, and more noticeably so because of the slowness of Willow Road traffic. "I would certainly welcome differentiation," he said. Other commissioners expressed support for the project.
According to MidPen, the project will be in a position to compete for state funding when applications become available. The city of Menlo Park has also committed up to $6.7 million from its below-market-rate housing fund to support the project.
Soleska Market changes
In a related matter, the Planning Commission also voted 6-0 during its March 12 meeting to approve a request by the owner of Soleska Market, also located on the 1300 block of Willow Road, to purchase part of the frontage road to create a driving aisle for vehicles around the building. The commission also approved plans to make improvements to the market building, create an outdoor seating area and permit outdoor storage for some items.