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Community weighs in on likely environmental effects of Facebook's Willow Village

 
A rendering of what Facebook's proposed "Town Square" at its Willow Village development might look like. (Image courtesy Signature Development Group/Facebook/Peninsula Innovation Partners.)

Facebook is beginning its environmental review process for its proposed Willow Village, a massive project with office and commercial space, housing and a hotel east of U.S. 101 in Menlo Park.

On Monday, Oct. 7, the Menlo Park Planning Commission held a study session on the project and what's called a "scoping session" to discuss the potential environmental impacts that should be studied in the project's environmental impact report (EIR).

During the scoping session, attendees aired many of the usual concerns with new development, namely traffic and housing.

In public comment, former planning commissioner Patti Fry recommended that one of the less intense development alternatives being studied look at the impacts of less office space, not less housing. She also recommended that mitigations the EIR determines to be necessary for the project be implemented as each phase is completed.

Since the project was initially proposed, Facebook has expanded the number of proposed apartments from 1,500 to 1,735, with a minimum of 15% dedicated to below-market-rate housing.

"The elephant in the room is, for this project, the elephant in the room for all of our Bayfront projects, which is transportation," said Commissioner Henry Riggs.

"This project is ... not in an urban area served by transit," he said. "There are significant transportation opportunities ... one of those should be linked to this project."

One of those opportunities is an effort by Facebook, SamTrans and the Plenary Group, via a partnership called Cross Bay Transit Partners, to explore the feasibility of rebuilding the Dumbarton Rail Corridor for transbay rail service. Consultants confirmed that they plan to study this potential project in the project's traffic impact analysis.

"We have an amazing opportunity to set an example of what it would look like to reduce the jobs-housing (imbalance)," said Belle Haven resident Pam Jones.

In addition, four people from the local carpenters union, Local 217, spoke in favor of the project, saying they favor increasing the housing stock in the city and Facebook's use of union carpenters, paying fair wages and benefits.

"This development will allow carpenters like me to continue living in Menlo Park," said Sergio Ramirez Herrera, a longtime Menlo Park resident.

The project

The proposal, led by Signature Development Group, is to replace a roughly 1-million-square foot, 59-acre former Prologis business park with 1.75 million square feet of new office space, up to 1,735 housing units, a 250-room hotel, 200,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, and a 4-acre public park.

The site is located along Willow Road between Hamilton Avenue and Ivy Drive, bordered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Hetch Hetchy right-of-way, Mid-Peninsula High School on the south, the Dumbarton Rail Corridor to the north, and Menlo Business Park properties on the east. It would be divided into three sections: a town square district, a residential and shopping district and a campus district.

The town square district, set in the northwest part of the site, would have a public plaza and about 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel and residential buildings, and a parking structure nearby.

The residential and shopping district would be along the western and southern edges of the site, with residential and mixed-use buildings. Housing units would be a mix of sizes, from studios to three-bedroom rental apartments. It would include the 4-acre public park with public restrooms, a public dog park, and a "community-serving" building of 10,000 square feet.

The campus district would have a secure nine-building Facebook campus, with two parking garages totaling about 3,100 parking spaces. Those buildings could offer employee amenities like food service, a health and wellness center and a child care center. There would also be a transit system in each of the two employee parking structures to help employees traverse campus, each with seven bus bays.

Facebook proposes to include in an open space on its campus district a Native American cultural resources site, to be developed by consulting with Native American tribes.

A total of about 9.4 acres would be publicly accessible when the park, dog park, town square and an additional public plaza are added up, according to staff.

The buildings would have "green" features, with plans to meet LEED Gold standards and comply with the city's EV charging requirement. It would meet all its energy demand for electricity and natural gas by generating energy on-site, buying 100% renewable energy, installing local renewable energy generation in Menlo Park and buying renewable energy credits and offsets.

Landscaping would meet the city's water efficient landscaping ordinance and would use recycled water.

Facebook is reportedly also open to dedicating a stand-alone building of below-market-rate housing for seniors, according to the report.

It is also looking into running community shuttles between the Willow Village Town Square and neighborhoods in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, as well as connections to the Menlo Park Caltrain station, according to the report.

The plan calls for building the project in three phases: the first phase, 600,000 square feet of office, 10,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, and 767 housing units; the second phase, 630,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, and 633 housing units; and the third phase, 520,300 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, a 200- to 250-room hotel, and 335 housing units.

Studying the impacts

The EIR aims to evaluate the project's effects on: aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural and tribal resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, population and housing, public services and recreation, utilities, and transportation and traffic.

The consultants working on the environmental analysis plan to do a transportation impact analysis that will focus on intersections, residential and nonresidential roadway segments, and regional routes.

A housing needs assessment will also be prepared.

The environmental analysis will also look at the possibility of realigning Hamilton Avenue to be close to perpendicular to Willow Road by moving the Chevron station to the north side of the street, and would include several bike and pedestrian paseos, as well as a network of roadways and plazas.

While plans aren't yet in place as to what will be done with the on-site trees, it's anticipated that the 793 trees on site, 263 of which are heritage trees, would have to be removed to build the project and raise the site above the flood plain elevation.

If all goes according to plan, the EIR is expected to be released in the fall of 2020, according to staff.

Possible complication

The conditions that would permit much of this project come with a significant asterisk: In June, the City Council talked about the possibility of a development moratorium, and appointed a subcommittee to explore potential changes to land use, density and intensities allowed in the city.

"If as a result of the subcommittee work the City Council adopts changes to the City's land use planning documents while this project is still in the pipeline, the proposed project could be required to make modifications to comply with those changes," a staff report states.

How to comment

People wishing to weigh in on which topics are covered in the environmental impact analysis should submit comments to the city's Community Development Department by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18.

Submit comments to Kyle Perata, principal planner, by email to ktperata@menlopark.org, with "Willow Village Master Plan Project EIR" as the subject; or by mail to Perata at the Community Development Department, 701 Laurel St., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

He can also be reached at (650) 330-6721 for questions or comments.

Si usted necesita más información sobre este proyecto, por favor llame al 650-330-6702, y pregunte por un asistente que hable español.

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