Environmental review starts for Facebook's Willow Village plan

A conceptual rendering of Facebook's proposed "Town Square" at its Willow Village development. (Image courtesy Facebook/Signature Development Group.)

An estimated $1.8 million in staff and consultant work to evaluate the environmental impacts of Facebook's proposed Willow Village can now begin, after the Menlo Park City Council approved a series of contracts on Aug. 20.

Facebook will pay for this work as it pushes forward with its proposal to build millions of square feet of commercial and residential space in the Bayside area of the city, on a 59-acre property located on the south side of Willow Road about a quarter-mile west of Bayfront Expressway, bounded roughly by Mid Peninsula High School to the west, Willow Road to the north, the Dumbarton rail corridor to the east, and the UPS Center and Pacific Biosciences office (on O'Brien Drive and Adams Court) to the south.

Notably, the number of housing units up for consideration now is substantially greater than the original 1,500 units in the initial proposal.

While council members did vote in favor of the contract, several were quick to point out that the action is really an administrative step – they have to vote on it because of the amount of money involved, and would be liable to a lawsuit if they didn't approve it – and noted that approving the contract is not an endorsement of the project.

"We owe the applicant a fair and balanced hearing on the project," said Mayor Ray Mueller.

Councilwoman Betsy Nash and Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor expressed concerns that the project would worsen the city's jobs-housing balance by adding more employees than housing units.

"This is the biggest project in Menlo Park's history," said Taylor. "We need to be cautious."

The council is also in the process of considering revisions to its ConnectMenlo plan. According to City Attorney Bill McClure, Facebook would have to comply with whatever the laws are when it seeks final approval for the project, not when it starts its proposal process. "This project has no vested rights," he explained.

Within the next few weeks, the city plans to release a notice of preparation for the project's environmental impact review, according to Principal Planner Kyle Perata. At that step in the process, there will be a window during which people will be encouraged to bring up topics that should be studied in the environmental analysis.


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