The Menlo Park Planning Commission wants to see more housing in the proposed Parkline development plans at the SRI campus, saying at its Jan. 23 meeting that the project could match the more than 1,700 units in Meta's recent Willow Village megaproject.
Plans for the Parkline project, located on the research campus at Ravenswood Avenue between Laurel Street and Middlefield Road, call for up to 550 new rental housing units, at least 15% of which would be offered at below market rate. The project will include new bicycle and pedestrian paths and about 25 acres of publicly accessible open space.
The Parkline development at SRI’s campus is also across the street from the city's Burgess Park complex, which includes Menlo Park's recreation center, pool, gyms, police station, city hall and city council chambers, library, tennis courts and fields. There are several bus stops adjacent to the site along Middlefield Road and Ravenswood Avenue.
Parkline developer Lane Partners plans to demolish all but three of the existing buildings currently on the SRI research campus. The development will be split between a 10-acre residential district and a 53-acre office district. The residential district in its plans would have 450 units, plus a separately zoned area to be leased to an affordable housing developer for a project of up to 100 units.
The biggest questions at the meeting, which was continued from a Dec. 12 meeting, centered on the size and accessibility of the site, as many residents and commissioners said that the location is ideal for more housing than the developer is currently proposing.
The site was compared several times to Meta's recently approved Willow Village development, located on Willow Road between Hamilton Avenue and Ivy Drive, near the social media giant's headquarters on Bayfront Expressway. They are comparable in size, as Willow Village encompasses a 59-acre lot while Parkline is proposed for a 63-acre lot. However, Parkline is proposing 550 housing units as opposed to Willow Village’s 1,730 units.
The difference in proposed homes and housing density raised equity questions among commissioners, as Willow Village is situated in the underserved Belle Haven neighborhood, where a majority of Menlo Park’s new and affordable units are built. The Parkline development is in the resource-rich Linfield Oaks neighborhood, close to downtown Menlo Park and an array of amenities, from public parks to public transit.
“If we provide less than one-third of the units in District 3 that we allow in District 1 on the same amount of acreage, it just doesn't feel equitable,” Vice Chair Cynthia Harris said. “If we aren't equitable, we do put ourselves at risk. We put ourselves at risk of lawsuits, and we put ourselves at risk of the state coming in and making some decisions for us.”
One suggestion commissioners and residents alike made was to decrease parking while increasing housing. Theoretically, this move would decrease the traffic impact as the property is close access to the Menlo Park Caltrain station and other public transit, which would draw in residents without cars or who prefer not to drive.
“It is the opportunity of a generation, perhaps multiple generations,” Commissioner Jennifer Schindler said. “This is a completely unique location, completely collaborative and invested landowner, so we really do have an opportunity to make a big impact on the community here.”
While the meeting had a heavy focus on increased housing, some neighbors had concerns about the proposed growth. Many of these worries were expressed through emails to the Planning Commission, including one from Linfield Oaks resident Nancy Hosay that lays out several recommendations, such as fewer housing units and redirecting traffic flow by relocating a proposed driveway on Laurel Street.
“At 400 units, the density of this development far outstrips anything in the adjoining neighborhoods, and jeopardizes basic quality of life issues including resultant lack of parking, crowding, school and infrastructure impacts and traffic in this area,” Hosay wrote to the Planning Commission.
Others pushed for higher density in public comments, suggesting that the project approach or match the density of Willow Village.
“We can go a long way towards achieving climate goals and affirmatively furthering fair housing in an equitable manner by increasing the density of Parkline,” resident Catherine Dumont said. “Doubling (it) would be good.”
The Planning Commission members had less than an hour to discuss the proposal after hearing public comments, so the meeting was continued a second time to Feb. 6. At the first hearing at a Dec. 12 meeting, commission members only had 30 minutes to discuss the proposal.