Menlo Park City Council took a surgical look at the city's upcoming Housing Element update, vetting a list of properties and considering whether they're the right place to put higher-density housing at its Monday, June 6, meeting.
The council discussed nine sites that could be suitable for housing growth, including the controversial former Flood School site, the federally owned U.S. Geological Survey campus and SRI International's campus on Ravenswood Avenue. City officials are looking into how dense housing development should be on each site and the likelihood that housing will actually get built.
Compiling the list of sites is part of the city's Housing Element update, required by the state of California on an eight-year cycle. The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) requires Menlo Park to make it possible to build 2,946 units of affordable housing between 2023 and 2031.
Many public commenters weighed in on the former James Flood Magnet School property, which, under the city's site inventory, could allow for 90 units. Karen Grove, a member of the group Menlo Together, a local affordable housing advocacy group, criticized the city for seeking to reduce how many units could be built on the site.
"I was really disappointed and confused with staff's recommendation to limit the density (of the flood school site) to the base density of 30 units per acre at a time when the school district is actively seeking proposals to develop up to 90 units," Grove said. "That just seems really contrary to our goals, contrary to meeting our RHNA goals, contrary to valuing the children in our city, who attend the Ravenswood City School District."
Nicole Chessari, one of the founders of the group Menlo Balance, warned that high density on the site could lead to problems in the neighborhood. Menlo Balance recently proposed a ballot initiative that would prohibit rezoning of single-family districts without a vote from the public.
"The traffic from high density would be completely overly burdensome and hazardous to that community," Chessari said. "And that has not been addressed, and I think that needs to be addressed in order to allow for that level of density at that site."
Council members voted 3-2, with Cecilia Taylor and Betsy Nash opposed, to remove Marsh Road properties from the site inventory after the property owner stated disinterest in building housing without a bump in density. The change comes despite staff's recommendation to keep the site on the list with higher density.
In contrast, the Sharon Heights Office Park on Sand Hill Road was kept on the list with a potential "base" density of 120 units across 4 acres or 400 units of affordable housing. The property owner was not interested in developing housing at the site, and staff's recommendation was to remove it.
Councilman Ray Mueller expressed his opposition to the recommendation, stating that he didn't believe it to be a good addition to the draft.
"I just don't think it's a good-faith addition to the list," Mueller said. "To say that people are going to rezone a venture capital firm for affordable housing."
A nearly 1-acre Stanford-owned site on Alpine Road at Stowe Lane was removed from the list, though council members expressed their desire for development on the site.
Council members kept two church properties, St. Bede's and Menlo Church, on the list of so-called opportunity sites, with bonus density for affordable housing. The St. Bede's site could allow 15 market-rate units or 50 affordable units and Menlo Church could allow 55 units or 183 affordable units.
The Flood School site was also kept on the list but was lowered to 20 units per acre following a unanimous vote by the council. The USGS site was kept as an option on the Housing Element draft and increased to 60 units an acre.
The SRI lot was kept on the list as-is, with 400 potential units on Ravenswood Avenue, but the Civic Center on Laurel Street was removed.
The revised Housing Element draft will be submitted to the state, housing and community development department, after which the state has 90 days to review the documents and make comments.
More information on the city's Housing Element can be found online.
Editor's note: The council's vote was corrected from a previous version of this story to say that Cecilia Taylor and Betsy Nash cast the opposing votes.