Menlo Park: City could explore further development downtown

Council starts downtown plan review

While the Menlo Park City Council decided to put off making any major decisions about the city's El Camino Real/downtown specific plan until a later meeting, it was clear at the March 12 council meeting that people are interested in participating in the process of reviewing the plan.

The plan, which the council approved in 2012, has gone through a review every other year since 2013. To date, about 84 percent of the 474,000 square feet of net new nonresidential development the downtown plan permits has been claimed by downtown development projects, and about 72 percent of the total new 680 housing units the plan permits have received entitlements, according to staff.

With the city coming up on the cap of what's permitted, a discussion is in the works about whether the cap should be revised or updated. In particular, some members of the community are requesting that the plan be re-evaluated so the city could consider permitting more housing – including more affordable housing – downtown.

According to staff, several local public agencies have raised concerns with the plan thus far.

The Sequoia Union High School District is worried about increased enrollment at its schools, increased traffic, and more noise and air pollution from downtown growth. The Menlo Park City School District is concerned about increased school enrollment without additional funding for the district in property taxes.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District is worried about the densities, heights and massing of new buildings, as well as a lack of backup water storage for fighting fires downtown.

One of the goals of the downtown plan was to "revitalize" the city's downtown, both along Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino Real. But some say that progress on this front has been slow.

According to resident Evan Goldin, the closest businesses to his home are shuttered. "I'm tired of having a dreary neighborhood," he said.

Mayor Ray Mueller said he wants the plan to promote downtown improvements "organically." Past initiatives, such as approving changes to the Guild Theater and building street cafe areas on Santa Cruz Avenue, have been one-off projects, he pointed out. During the last review, the City Council suggested that staff look at how to preserve retail businesses, but staff members said they need further clarity on how to pursue that goal.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said, "As we move into amending the downtown specific plan, it's very important we do as much outreach as possible."

Several members of the city's Housing Commission, speaking as individuals during the public comment period, emphasized the need for the city to zone for higher-density housing, especially affordable housing.

"We will not ever get affordable housing on private land, because it's too expensive," Housing Commissioner Karen Grove said. She added that the commission would like to see public land dedicated to providing affordable housing – potentially as a shared-use project with a parking garage or other public use.

As for the next steps, Muenzer said, staff is likely to consider expanding the boundaries of the downtown specific plan, and might reconsider where multi-family housing could be zoned. If the council decides to move forward to explore further development downtown beyond what the current plan permits, additional environmental analysis would be needed and consultants would need to be hired, he added.

Council members agreed to give staff as long as needed to collect more data before scheduling a follow-up meeting.


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6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2019 at 10:39 am

The City will still be talking about this issue 10 years from now -- having study sessions, hiring a consultant, neighborhood meetings, and so on.

Meanwhile the traffic will continue to gets worse.

17 people like this
Posted by menloresident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Menlo Park like other cities on the peninsula will talk/meet/plan/spend on consulting but little will happen for 10 or more years. Look at Redwood CIty which has completely transformed itself from sleepy low rise buildings to vibrant livable downtown with walkable food/entertainment and outdoor space. Wake up Menlo Park

2 people like this
Posted by The Rent is too damn high
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:43 pm

retail rents are too high, that's why we can't have anything nice. We have good plan in place, passed in 2012. Why no try that! Traffic isn't the issue in MP it's the cost to rent a store front, little foot traffic due to little vibrancy, mediocre restaurants (several that aren't open for dinner) and many businesses that don't generate return trips (furniture and rug/flooring stores). Also the west end of SC is completely taken over by a sprawling church complex. How about a bar? For the pearl clutching set, how about a wine bar.

3 people like this
Posted by menlo as is
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Menloresident- how about those that like Menlo as it is? Not every city has to be "vibrant". Leave Menlo alone and let office and massive housing developments go to other cities. Leave Menlo with the few remaining shreds of charm it has.

9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I have two suggestions for the Council's consideration:

1 - The DSP needs a better definition of what might constitute a Public Benefit in order to qualify for a higher FAR.

In my opinion a Public Benefit is a physical improvement that is accessible to and benefits the general public.
Paying otherwise required taxes or building underground tenant use only garages, for examples, do not benefit
the general public. It also makes no sense to grant a developer millions of dollars worth of additional development
rights in exchange for a very small one time cash payment to the city.

2 - In the ECR NE - Low Density zone development limits should be revised to completely eliminate the Public Benefit
bonus since the current Public Benefit bonus FAR is inconsistent with the designation of Low Density. This zone
is primarily residential and a Public Benefit bonus FAR of 1.25 far exceeds what is appropriate for a residential

11 people like this
Posted by P. Anders
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Please tell me your kidding -- that the City thinks its a good idea to take active steps to increase population!?! MP is choking on congestion everywhere. We are overcrowded and it is near insufferable. If anything, MP should consider making it exceptionally painful for new growth to occur and stick to our agreed upon caps. WE SET LIMITS on growth. Limits are limits.

If you want to do anything, we should institute caps CITY WIDE.

10 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Big, ugly banks take up entire blocks of Santa Cruz Ave. Replacing those with shops and restaurants would be a good start.

14 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 22, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Don't complain about population growth if you're not happy to be child-less and tell you grandkids to scram out of town. If you want no-growth, move to Indiana. This is one of the most expensive and successful regions on the planet and thinking that lil' ole Menlo Park can be immunized is short sighted, and means we'll lose any shred of control over our future we think we have. Keep pushing on!

9 people like this
Posted by Happy Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 22, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Menlo Park urgently needs Much, Much More Housing (affordable and otherwise) so that those who work in and near Menlo Park can live in Menlo Park whether you are an investment banker, a start-up CEO, a waiter, or teacher, or policeman, or plumber ...there is lots and lots of space for a wide variety of high density housing...

5 people like this
Posted by menloresident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 24, 2019 at 5:42 am

menlo as is:
How about the city starts by allowing more permits in existing buildings for restaurants? Allowing 2 or 3 story mixed use buildings clearly you prefer 3 or 4 ? Empty rug stores, I lost count.. when did you last step foot in to any of the rug stores? Have you seen the prices? 3? large banks (one is closed for now) , 2 real estate firms, 2 bathroom/kitchen showrooms, 2 furniture showrooms. When did you step in to any of these places?
Ok, so don’t want Menlo Park to look like Redwood City, Palo Alto and Mountain View ...You can have still have nice things and keep the charm with some common sense planning and permitting allowances.
Do you know that Menlo Park will not allow you to convert retail space in to restaurant space or other use space? So we will forever be stuck with rug stores l.
I live blocks from downtown and my kids prefer a car ride to Redwood City foe town
You to can have nice things Menlo As Is and if you don’t want nice things let others have them

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

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