The Menlo Park City Council met on Nov. 15 and asked Meta to make some concessions on its massive mixed-use Willow Village development in the Belle Haven neighborhood, with a final council decision expected before the end of the year.
The project will redevelop 59 acres with up to 1.2 million square feet of offices and 1,730 homes. Meta, formerly known as Facebook, also has plans to build a hotel, retail and commercial space and parks, among other things. The main development would be built along Willow Road between Hamilton Avenue and Ivy Drive, according to the application.
Ahead of a final vote on the project, the council used the meeting as an opportunity to ask for more concessions from Meta and Signature, the project's developer, to make some changes to the plan.
Several residents spoke at the meeting, which included Spanish translation. One speaker read 10 comments in Spanish from residents of Menlo Park, which heavily focused on the need for affordable housing. One resident, Guillermo Nicolas, requested that at least 25% of units be made affordable, a sentiment that was echoed by two other speakers in public comment. Currently, 18% of units from the Willow Village project will be affordable.
One sticking point at the meeting was the gas station that Willow Village would remove to build their ambitious project. The station is located at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road, where Willow Village is being built.
“We do not want the raise the gas station to be removed,” resident Lucia Soto said. “Find another way.”
After a long development process, which included a lengthy back-and-forth on amenities and concessions between Meta and the city, most residents who spoke were strongly in support of the project.
“A huge component of our efforts to address climate change is to make it more affordable to live, work and play all in the same area, mitigating those vehicle miles traveled,” said Alex Torres, director of state government relations for the Bay Area Council.
Rick Johnson, a resident representing the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, said he met with team members on the project who had provided him with the ability to talk about conservation issues. Johnson expressed concern about the effect of the experimental design of the project on local wildlife, specifically bird safety and light pollution onto nearby marshlands.
Meta and the city came to an agreement surrounding the highly anticipated grocery store. Meta agreed to add $1 million to the initial $2 million of rent subsidy that it's providing, and move the project timeline up so that the mixed-use residential building that includes the grocery store is built sooner.
The council initially asked for five years of free rent for a grocer, but Meta stood by its proposal to offer free rent for two years as planned, adding $1 million to either subsidize an additional year or partially subsidize several years.
"Our goal isn't to have ... corporate welfare for large national corporations, but to incent them to come and sign a lease and move forward," said Michael Ghielmetti, a representative of Signature.
Meta has also agreed to hold five job fairs for residents of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Previously, if Meta had a hiring freeze, the job fairs would be canceled, but now Meta will instead postpone and hold the events another time.
Meta declined requests to use entirely zero-emission landscaping maintenance without first looking into available equipment and the cost of such measures, however Signature agreed to use non-diesel generators on the project if the machinery is available by the time it's needed.
Meta agreed to the council's request that the city's access to the shared event spaces be put into writing.
The discussion of the plan was continued to the regularly scheduled Nov. 30 City Council meeting in anticipation of a final vote before the end of the year.