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Menlo Park City Council fine-tunes where to zone for future housing growth

The U.S. Geological Survey campus in Menlo Park could be the future site of housing as city officials weigh where to allow growth under its updated Housing Element. Photo by Andrea Gemmet.

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."

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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.

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"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.

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Cameron Rebosio joined the Almanac in 2022 as the Menlo Park reporter. She previously wrote for the Daily Californian and the Palo Alto Weekly. Read more >>

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Menlo Park City Council fine-tunes where to zone for future housing growth

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 13, 2022, 10:02 am

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.

Comments

Private citizen
Registered user
Laurel School
on Jun 13, 2022 at 2:18 pm
Private citizen , Laurel School
Registered user
on Jun 13, 2022 at 2:18 pm

Please explain how building at sri, usgs and flood school is sharing equally across MP. Please add to this list the fact that the county is zoning flood park predominantly for sports fields. Their parking plan looks as if they might well count Bay rd as part of the parking solution.

And why would you consider mitigating the inconvenience to suburban park by redirecting traffic through flood triangle/ Van Buren?? How is doing that to Flood triangle a mitigation?

What about fb? They own well over half the city’s land and Mark claims that half of his people will be working from home over the next five years.

Covid changed the game. More and more people are working from home at least part time. We need to start knocking on the doors of the mega companies up and down the peninsula that have swallowed up vast tracts of land for their private use. Or should I say, their private under-use?

I’m all for sharing the responsibility for creating affordable housing. So far, the plan for Menlo Park is not “Sharing” and that’s not right.


Menlo Lifestyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 14, 2022 at 9:54 am
Menlo Lifestyle, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Jun 14, 2022 at 9:54 am

It's interesting that Drew Combs (council member for the Flood School Site) is suddenly changing his tune. His district pleaded with him to fight for something reasonable on that site and he just shrugged. Now he sees landslide of support from homeowners for the initiative. We will remember how you ignored us and fought against us at the next election, Drew. We will remember how you put your employer Facebook's needs over MP homeowners.


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