Among the potential changes to the plan under consideration are: amending the plan to allow the Guild Theatre to be rebuilt as a community-focused live music venue; to potentially allow uses other than parking at a future downtown parking structure; and to make a number of small changes, mainly to add clarity in the plan, that were originally proposed in 2015 but haven't been implemented yet, according to Mark Muenzer, community development director.
However, council members said there hasn't been enough discussion on how to improve the plan among city commissions and others who will be affected, like the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and local school districts.
"We need to make sure the right people look at this," Councilwoman Cat Carlton said.
Councilman Ray Mueller requested that those groups be asked how they feel about the possibility of development caps. He also expressed apprehension about the city's current transportation master plan under development.
"A lot of the approvals we have done always reference the (transportation master plan)," he said. "At this moment, I'm not sure I have 100 percent confidence in that process."
The plan was on the council's agenda to discuss, but the matter was pushed to the following meeting on April 24, held after The Almanac went to press.
One of the big questions facing the council is whether to allow more housing downtown than the 680 new units the plan allows. Currently, 480 — or 71 percent — of the total number of allowed units have been approved and proposed, according to a staff report.
Councilman Rich Cline pointed out that housing advocates are pushing Caltrain to consider developing affordable housing on its property along the rail line.
Councilwoman Kirsten Keith spoke about the imminent "silver tsunami" — the large number of aging seniors likely to need extra support services in coming years — and talked about the need for affordable senior housing. That affordable housing, she noted, wouldn't create new burdens for the school districts.
Another big question is whether to permit more nonresidential development. Already, 92 percent of the maximum amount of nonresidential development (mainly office space and some retail), or 474,000 square feet, has been approved or applied for in the downtown plan area, according to staff.
Several council members voiced support for adding a downtown parking garage with a movie theater, alongside a renovated Guild Theatre that would host live performances. At a public meeting held April 16, some attendees said they'd like to see a parking garage that included either affordable housing or a movie theater.
Other matters discussed at the council meeting included a desire to support retail and the preservation of small businesses downtown.
Since the downtown plan was adopted in 2012, Mayor Peter Ohtaki pointed out, there haven't been many redevelopment proposals for Santa Cruz Avenue.
"We've heard complaints (that) 'It doesn't pencil out,'" he said, noting he'd like to "unlock" the development potential of Santa Cruz Avenue, perhaps by reconsidering height restrictions or re-evaluating how floor-area ratio is calculated to ensure it's consistent with other area cities.
Staff estimated that revising the plan could cost upwards of $425,000, given that the work would be roughly a quarter of the effort of the whole downtown plan, which cost $1.7 million in 2012 dollars.
Cline pointed out that so far, not much has actually been built. The two big developments that fall under the plan — Stanford's Middle Plaza project at 500 El Camino Real and Greenheart Land Co.'s Station 1300 project at 1300 El Camino Real <0x0214> take up the bulk of the allowed development in the plan. Muenzer informed the council that Stanford plans to send out notices that demolition work is expected to begin next month.
Currently, there are eight developments under construction, three approved developments that are not under construction yet and six development applications that are pending approval in the downtown plan area, according to the staff report.
The Menlo Park Planning Commission was scheduled to review plans to renovate the Guild Theatre on Monday, April 23, after The Almanac went to press. The City Council will have the final say on the project's approval.
The concept appears to be enormously popular among locals — at least 60 emails in support of the project were sent to the City Council between April 14 and April 19.
Updates to the downtown plan may not do much to address one of the plan's main flaws, as described by Steve Schmidt and Brielle Johnck, supporters of the 2014 Measure M, which aimed to curtail office development downtown. They say that the baseline development allowances the downtown plan grants property owners were too generous with developers, and they have no motivation to build at an even higher density in exchange for providing public benefits.
Schmidt said in an interview he felt the right thing for the city to do would be to impose an annual cap on the amount of office space that can be developed each year at around 20,000 or 25,000 square feet, and prioritize housing. Building so much new commercial space means adding new jobs to the city, which spurs demand for housing.
"There's a label we get as being NIMBies," Johnck said. "But why aren't businesses responsible?"
Slowing commercial growth in the city could also allow the city to see if there's anything that can be done to address its traffic and transportation infrastructure.
Still, reaching a jobs-housing balance within the city isn't likely to happen anytime soon, she said, comparing the situation to high school students who decides their senior year they want to go to college after getting Ds and Fs their first three years. "How can you make (it) up with As?" she asked. "The damage we've done is so great — you can't claw it back."
Former planning commissioner Patti Fry, also a Measure M supporter, recommended in an email that the council prioritize preserving small businesses and retail, and potentially creating a "community-serving overlay" that would require net new first-floor development to be retail, non-office "community-serving" businesses or housing.
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