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Planning Commission wants to go bigger on housing at SRI campus redevelopment in Menlo Park

Mixed-use project got initial nod of approval but says developer can do better than the 400 housing units proposed

An illustration of the residential entry on Laurel Street for SRI International's revamped campus. Developer Lane Partners proposes adding at least 400 residential units. Courtesy Lane Partners.

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.

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"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.

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Planning Commission wants to go bigger on housing at SRI campus redevelopment in Menlo Park

Mixed-use project got initial nod of approval but says developer can do better than the 400 housing units proposed

by Lloyd Lee / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 1, 2022, 11:45 am

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.

Comments

Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 1, 2022 at 3:50 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Apr 1, 2022 at 3:50 pm

I find it offensive the the city would attempt to use its planning authority to extort land from an applicant for low income housing - in any other country that would be properly labelled as bribery.

If the city wants a couple of acres for low income housing why doesn't the city buy that acreage and then dedicate it to low income housing? It makes no sense to steal land from the developer who will in turn be forced to pass on higher rents just to the their tenants for something which is a city-wide social good. If we want low income housing then we should all bear the cost of that low income housing not just the current applicant for a development permit.


Alice Schroeder
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Apr 1, 2022 at 8:59 pm
Alice Schroeder , Atherton: other
Registered user
on Apr 1, 2022 at 8:59 pm

Between this development, others in the area and along El Camino, and Newsome’s new housing bill, this area is going to become unlivable. The traffic will be unbearable and the charm that draws many to this beautiful area will be a distant memory.


Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 1, 2022 at 10:23 pm
Resident, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 1, 2022 at 10:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is correct on all counts. Planning commissions seem to ask for more and more concessions from the applicant because the commissioners want the outcome of more low income housing without saddling Menlo Park with the cost. If low income housing is important to the Town then the citizens should be in favor of a Menlo Park bond to provide incentives to developers to build low income units. The passage of a low income housing bond would show that Menlo Park residents are personally financially committed to providing low income housing. If the town wants a social good, the let the town residents contribute to the social good.


Dagwood
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2022 at 12:50 pm
Dagwood, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Apr 2, 2022 at 12:50 pm

Kudos to the PC for their proactive views. To add to that: I'd like to see some more interesting architectural styling. Our new buildings on ECR are nice enough, but there's value in promoting less commonplace architectural styles. There's always a balance to be struck between functionality, cost and 'delight'. The last needs more emphasis in MP going forward.


SMott
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Apr 3, 2022 at 2:28 pm
SMott, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Apr 3, 2022 at 2:28 pm

The past half dozen years has seen a record amount of building and expansion in Menlo Park. I'm very concerned with this continued push to densify the city. We aren't gaining additional public parks, open spaces, new schools, and we are forever in a drought. Cramming more people into the city adversely impacts these limited resources and sours the quality of living for current residence. I wish that Peninsula cities would work with mayors in other cities and towns outside the Bay Area, those who would welcome and can easily accommodate growth, and begin a trend to incentivize people and companies to grow these rather than the current practice of bending over backwards to cram more people into an already saturated Menlo Park.


TR
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Apr 6, 2022 at 2:15 pm
TR, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2022 at 2:15 pm

The Planning Commission has been in the bribery/extortion business for a long time. I had one member tell me years ago that he "wasn't going to let me have everything I wanted" "Let me"? Seriously? No I wasn't doing anything extreme, just something that required permission.

The PC takes it upon themselves to demonstrate politics and power in action. No consequences. Just tell people what to do to make a point.

To be clear, I don't have any fundamental problem with the idea of the project, nor the affordability components in general. But the idea that one of them just suggested that the OWNER 'donate' some land to provide more BMR housing seems inappropriate at best.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 15, 2022 at 12:21 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Apr 15, 2022 at 12:21 pm

"I find it offensive the the city would attempt to use its planning authority to extort land from an applicant for low income housing."

It's actually part of the "negotiation" that expedites approvals for the developer. Here's how it works.

10 CONTINUE
1.) The developer has no legal right to build it's proposed project. It requests legal and discretionary approvals to do so.
2.) The developer submits it application with its request for discretionary approvals.
3.) The discretionary bodies say, "No." C'ya.
4.) The developer is SOL and can make another blind guess about what project might be acceptable.
20 GOTO 10

"No" is a legal response. Nothing illegal whatsoever. Nobody has a legal right to a legislative change to build their project. The city is not even legally required to process an application that requests a "legislative" act, i.e. rezoning, height limit, general plan amendment.

A "legislative" act is different than a "quasi-judicial" act (e.g. use permit) which is within the existing zoning law but requires review. In that case the city must process the application, review the project, and can still deny it or place conditions upon it.

Rather then making the developer guess over and over and over and over and over about what kind of development the community will approve, they go through this dais dance. The developer's are fine with this. They would challenge anything illegal. They always do.

Now. You and I are going to disagree about a few things. You may be offended by the simple fact that the city has land use power over this project. Too bad. Take it up with the Supreme Court.

You might also mistakenly believe that SRI has an existing entitlement to build this project based on the existing SRI CDP. They don't. This is not a "remodel." This project is a completely new project. It will erase and remake the entire footprint. It's a massive intensification of both building density and use density.



PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 15, 2022 at 12:53 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Apr 15, 2022 at 12:53 pm

From reading the PC Staff Report.

"The proposed project would require the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council to consider the merits of the proposed project along with the appropriateness of the Applicant’s general plan and zoning ordinance amendments, and consistency with adopted policies and programs of the City. The City Council would be the decision-making body for the EIR, general plan amendment, zoning ordinance amendment, and rezoning to allow the proposed mix of uses and densities/intensities requested by the Applicant, and the CDP to enable comprehensive planning of the project. The City Council would also be the acting body on the development agreement, which would provide vested rights in exchange for community benefits, and the vesting tentative map to merge the existing lots and re-subdivide in a manner consistent with the proposed improvements. The Planning Commission would be the acting body for architectural control for all proposed new buildings and the recommending body on all other entitlements."

Besides asking for three (3) count 'em, three new laws, including a completely new zoning category for this one property (read: spot zoning), the approvals ask for a developer's agreement which is a contract between the City and the developer, in which the City can ask for whatever it wants, and, can not agree if it chooses.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 15, 2022 at 1:24 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Apr 15, 2022 at 1:24 pm

" in which the City can ask for whatever it wants, and, can not agree if it chooses."

Correct and the developer has the option of proceeding under the current zoning and thereby contributing nothing, as a tax exempt entity to the city. They could invite dozens of other non-profit entities to share their current spaces with no benefit to the city.

Look carefully as to how the city ended up with essentially a non tax paying project by playing, very poorly, hardball with Stanford on ECR.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 16, 2022 at 4:04 pm
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on Apr 16, 2022 at 4:04 pm

SRI has no leverage. It's not under "current zoning", It builds under a CDP which overlays a zoning of C1(X). C1 allows 30% FAR. SRI development is 55.3% FAR. The "X" buys them, a 15 point bump, but, they agree to restrictions in the CDP, lot coverage, height, and employment caps that count differently when non-SRI employees occupy buildings. So long as the "use" is a true SRI R&D "use" they can employ at higher densities, but general office use by 3rd parties is counted double.

If SRI wants to scrap the CDP and re-build with the underlying C1 zoning, they would have to *REDUCE* their office footprint to 30% FAR. Even then they would need approvals.

That's fine with me. SRI can rebuild at 30% FAR. I will support whatever they want under C1 zoning.

They are asking to increase the 55% FAR without any of the CDP restrictions. The housing component puts the intensity well over 55% FAR. They are subdividing the parcel for the housing.

SRI has been renting much of its site for decades. It needs only 3 of the 9 proposed buildings. It's business model can't finance the construction. So 6 buildings are a gift to Lane Partners to generate the very high Menlo Park office rents needed to finance the construction and pay Lane Partners.

SRI is out of the research business and into the office park business.

SRI first proposed this project in 2000. Then Council created an entire policy task force to look at the planning issues. The entire community was informed about the full zoning and legal facts and the community was given policy questions. Here is the first question that appeared in the Staff Report. "What is the best use of this land for the city?"

The city says it needs housing, not office. Is it really too much to negotiate for more housing and less office?


Westbrook
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 17, 2022 at 5:43 pm
Westbrook, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Apr 17, 2022 at 5:43 pm

Does anyone object to some owner-occupied housing, Maybe condos, Town Houses and Single Family mix, There are thousands of rental units being built.


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