Discussing the project for the first time on Monday, the Menlo Park Planning Commission gave an initial nod of approval to developer Lane Partners' vision for transforming SRI International's aging research campus at 333 Ravenswood Ave.
The Parkline proposal at the 63.2-acre site envisions a more accessible neighborhood centerpiece, where cyclists and pedestrians can weave through the campus on new pathways, turning more than 25 acres into publicly accessible open space, a community sports field, retail shops and housing.
Currently, the plan calls for adding 400 residential units to the campus, with 381 apartments and 19 townhomes. The structures would be designed in the Mission architectural style, taking inspiration from the Allied Arts Guild and as well as buildings in Palo Alto.
"You probably can't go wrong with the approach that you've taken," said Commissioner Henry Riggs, who is also an architect. "I think it shows just simple wisdom."
But the project still has way to go before approval. And while commissioners were supportive of the development, most stressed at the March 28 meeting that they'd like to see Lane Partners add more residential units, underscoring the view that the large SRI campus is a rare opportunity for Menlo Park to aim high on housing as it updates its 2023-31 housing plans.
"There is absolutely no way that we can stick our heads in the ground and think that we're not going to build as much housing as we possibly can across all affordabilities," said Commissioner Camille Kennedy.
As it stands, the Parkline project proposes a mix of apartments, three- to five-stories high with one parking space per unit, and 19 two-story townhomes with attached two-car garages.
At least 60 of the 400 total units will be offered as affordable housing. Details about how affordable they will be were not yet determined.
Kalisha Webster, a housing coordinator at Housing Choices, a nonprofit organization in San Jose, floated the idea during public comment to donate one acre of the land to an affordable housing developer — a proposal that several commissioners were open to considering.
"My biggest concern about this project is that it's not enough housing," Commissioner Michele Tate said. "I do like the idea, if possible, about donating a couple acres, not just one, for a nonprofit or low-income housing developers."
Commissioners Cynthia Harris and Andrew Barnes also supported the idea of parceling out land for an affordable housing project.
Barnes said it could be an opportunity for "deeply" affordable housing and that the city's below market rate program, which stipulates a minimum number of affordable units for each development, won't be sufficient and that it's "effectively a tax on the other renters who are working hard to pay their rent in the same building."
Mark Murray, a principal at Lane Partners who gave a presentation at the meeting, said they've spoken with various groups and residents in the city, including Menlo Together, and were open to the idea of donating land.
Vice Chair Chris DeCardy noted that the developer was off to a great start for the project but the "two core things" that concern him are the number of affordable housing units and having a viable solution for potential traffic congestion.
DeCardy said 60 units for affordable housing is too low and threw out numbers from 200 to 500 units.
With that amount of housing, DeCardy said the project was also an opportunity to think creatively about getting people out of their cars and perhaps to work with the City Council to build connectivity from the Bayfront to downtown Menlo Park.
"We are not going to parking-garage our way out of the congestion. … I think this is one of those go-big moments," he said.
More than 25 members of the public also tuned in to the meeting, giving a preview of some of the support and objections surrounding the project.
A few residents from the Classics of Burgess Park development, adjacent to SRI and across from Burgess Park, raised concerns about homeless people camping out in the public open space.
One of its residents, Steve Pang, said that there's already an issue with homeless people camping near the area and that SRI has been unresponsive to the issue.
When Tate asked about potentially having security work in the evening, Murray said that SRI and Lane Partners have "every incentive" for securing the campus and that the city won't be responsible for it since the land is privately owned.
The developer will have to request several entitlements and go through an environmental review process to get the project approved.
To provide feedback about the project, go to menloparkline.com.
To view project plans, go to beta.menlopark.org.