Parking fears top list of criticisms leveled at proposed life sciences building | July 25, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

News - July 25, 2018

Parking fears top list of criticisms leveled at proposed life sciences building

by Kate Bradshaw

A proposed new commercial building and its twin, a five-story parking structure, from Menlo Park's most prolific biotech building developer John Tarlton was subjected to considerable scrutiny July 16 when the Menlo Park Planning Commission discussed the proposal at length during a preliminary study session, in advance of making any real decisions about whether or not to approve it.

The building proposed at 1105 to 1165 O'Brien Drive would replace two warehouse buildings with a 120,000-square-foot, five-story edifice reaching heights of 99 feet. The proposal also includes an adjacent five-story parking garage, a fitness center, and a small commercial space intended to operate as a grab-and-go cafe, plus a separate area in the back to store hazardous chemicals. An outdoor area would have a badminton court, bocce courts and seating areas for use by employees. About 200 employees would be expected to work in the building, Tarlton said, given his other tenants' typical ratio of two employees per 1,000 square feet of research and development space.

Tarlton will be expected to provide amenities to the community in exchange for permission to construct such a large building, but he hasn't yet proposed what those amenities might be.

Parking and transportation

Chief among commissioners' concerns is a proposed parking garage to accompany the building. Commissioners expressed concern that it would create more parking spaces than needed, thereby encouraging too many people to drive to work, and that it wouldn't be up to snuff aesthetically.

"This is a project that really is a parking garage with a building next to it," said Commissioner John Onken. "Parking garages are notorious for bullying a site because they have to be a certain size and shape to work."

Commissioner Katherine Strehl stated, as she has in the past, that she was concerned first and foremost about the traffic the new building could generate, acutely in eastern Menlo Park and indirectly throughout the city. When the city in late 2016 was rezoned to allow more intense development in that area, "I really felt we needed to have a plan for infrastructure," she said. "But I'm just standing on my soapbox."

Tarlton argued that the parking garage could be used by other building tenants, and said he expected demand to decrease in the years to come, as further transportation options beyond driving solo take firmer root. He said he supports efforts to rebuild the Dumbarton rail line — currently being led by a partnership between Facebook, SamTrans and the Plenary Group — but also favors more immediate traffic relief.

"We're working on a nearer-term solution: the adaptation of the Dumbarton Bridge for bus rapid transit," he said, noting he is having talks with consultants from Kimley-Horn on how Caltrans could adapt the current Dumbarton bridge.

In addition, Tarlton, an avid cyclist, told the commission he'll encourage people to use modes other than driving to get to work, and to take the stairs — the elevators are in different areas of the proposed building, Onken pointed out, which means people could be liable to getting stuck waiting for a lift up.

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