Spurred by a proposal from two council members, the Menlo Park City Council will next week consider adopting a moratorium on new nonresidential development, as well as on large-scale housing development on the city's Bay side.
After receiving a written request from Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and council member Betsy Nash to discuss freezing commercial development, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller has scheduled a special City Council meeting to discuss the matter on Tuesday, June 11, starting no earlier than 7 p.m.
"It is my expectation that the request for (a) moratorium will evoke passionate feelings and strong debate on all sides of the issue both within and outside our city borders," Mueller said in a written statement.
In an email, Nash told The Almanac, "Menlo Park’s jobs/housing imbalance seriously affects the quality of life for residents throughout the city. A temporary development moratorium gives us a chance to pause and assess our situation and possible policy responses."
While the city has development caps in some areas of the city, she wrote, "now we need to examine how much development has already been built or is in the pipeline, the traffic and other impacts of that development, and make good decisions about mitigating the impacts of development going forward."
In a memo Taylor and Nash submitted to Mueller, City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson and City Attorney Bill McClure, they asked that the council consider a citywide moratorium on all new nonresidential construction, including hotels, and any increased FAR (floor-area ratio, an indicator of building density) for existing nonresidential construction.
Citing unprecedented development and congestion, historic under-investment in the neighborhood, the presence of "sensitive populations" and proximity to major roadways, they also ask that the council consider a moratorium on residential development in District 1 – the area of the city on the Bay side of U.S. 101 – for all housing projects larger than 100 units, as well as for any increases in FAR for developments over 100 units. Among the "sensitive populations" in District 1 are those vulnerable to displacement due to the lack of affordable housing, such as seniors, and youth who they say don't have access to quality education.
They said that they're asking for the moratorium in order to ensure that the city's general plan update and El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan "reflect current community values" and address "opportunities and challenges."
"Our definition of a moratorium is to allow us to step back and look at the City's goals and quality of life for residents – here is where we are, now how do we fix it?" they wrote.
They are asking that the city further evaluate the city's jobs-housing imbalance, including breaking down the jobs-housing ratio by district, figuring out where additional housing can be encouraged through city zoning and evaluating how development proposals fit with the existing development caps.
They also want the council to consider rezoning some commercial areas to be residential, upzoning current housing in some areas, or promoting residential and retail mixed-use development as well as potentially passing a citywide housing affordability policy.
They also want to study how each type of development impacts access to education, community services, emergency services, clean water and air, as well as traffic and public transit impacts.
If the council decides to move forward with the moratorium, the city attorney may be asked to draft an ordinance to be considered at a future meeting.
The proposal comes at a time when the city is seeing an uptick in large commercial development proposals.
Since the city's El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan was approved in 2012, about 84% of the 474,000 square feet of net new noncommercial development the plan permits has already been claimed by developers, and about 72%of the permitted 680 new housing units have received entitlements, according to an April report.
Growth in the city's Bay side has been even faster: Within two years of the city's general plan update being completed, which upzoned much of the city's Bay side, developers have submitted proposals for five projects that cumulatively represent more than the 1.3-million-square-foot maximum of office space the plan permits.
One of those is Facebook's Willow Village proposal, which continues to move forward.