Following a private discussion about potential liabilities, the Menlo Park City Council unanimously authorized the spending of $3.6 million to acquire 1283 Willow Road, a vacant property formerly home to a gas station, at its Oct. 29 meeting.
While the details of those potential liabilities aren't public, as they were discussed in closed session, council members talked through whatever hesitancies were holding them back from simply approving the purchase without discussion as part of the consent calendar, as they were initially scheduled to do earlier that evening.
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District had also expressed interest in purchasing the property. In a letter sent to the council the day of its meeting, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the district was interested in acquiring the property for a relocated fire station, to be called Station 88.
He said he envisioned a process to relocate the current Station 77 at 1467 Chilco St. in Belle Haven to Willow Road, and said a relocation would reduce the district's use of Belle Haven streets when responding to emergencies.
The district would continue operations at Station 77 during the construction of a Station 88, and continue to use the site after construction for other functions, such as fleet services. Schapelhouman said keeping Station 77 would also be beneficial in water rescues because of its position near the Bay.
Nonprofit housing developer MidPen Housing -- which previously purchased the Willow Road property and transferred it into an LLC -- intended to build a mixed-use affordable housing project there, but the organization decided to sell the property for tax purposes by the end of 2019. MidPen plans to use the property for construction staging for its project to redevelop its adjacent Gateway Apartments property at 1345 Willow Road.
Before the council went into closed session, City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson said that MidPen Housing and the city of Menlo Park were further along in their negotiations with the nonprofit than the fire district.
"They (the members of the fire district board) need to be more informed about some of the zoning and technical requirements to confirm it can be used for their intended purposes," she said. "Otherwise we'd recommend selling it to them."