Project architect Bob Giannini of Form 4 Architecture, who spoke at the council meeting, explained that the building design is intended to complement the city's goal of revitalizing Santa Cruz Avenue, the downtown's main street.
"It brings a lot of people downtown," he said. "Which is bad, perhaps, for traffic, but good for the vitality of the street. Right now there are vacant storefronts on Santa Cruz. The goal would be ... to get more people downtown, and increase the liveliness downtown."
The building owner, Vasile Oros, plans to tear down the current structure, which houses the restaurant Juban Yankiniku House and the computer repair store TechLoop. The building is flanked by Menlo Park Hardware, also owned by Oros.
The next stage for the new project is the building permit process, after which the owner may begin construction. There is currently no set start date.
According to the city staff report, the building proposal is in keeping with Menlo Park's 2012 El Camino and Downtown Specific Plan. "The proposal would meet the Specific Plan's Base level standards, which were established to achieve inherent public benefits, such as the redevelopment of underutilized properties, the creation of more vitality and activity, and the promotion of healthy living and sustainability."
On the Santa Cruz Avenue side, design renderings suggest the potential for increased foot traffic in the area. The renderings show large windows in the bottom-floor retail spaces, which Giannini said may house restaurants. The second floor will contain offices and the top level will have four three-bedroom condominium units.
The total residential space is planned at 11,405 square feet. Retail space will total 12,049 square feet, and office space will total 23,454 square feet .
The new building will include a parking garage off Chestnut Lane with 69 parking spaces, replacing the 18 spaces on the current site.
According to Senior Planner Kaitie Meador, technical components of the project application include an architectural control permit for the building design, a subdivision to demarcate the for-sale residential units on the top floor, a variance that allows for skylights above one of the office spaces, and removal of a single parking space on Chestnut Lane to allow for fire access.
Oros originally brought the building proposal to the Planning Commission in December 2017. The commission's review yielded questions about how to address safety concerns on Chestnut Lane, and suggestions to improve the proposed building's appearance.
Following the initial review, Oros hired a new architect, Form 4 Architecture, and after lengthy revisions brought the proposal again to the commission, which held a study session in September 2018. Finally on Dec. 9 of last year, the commission voted to recommend approval of the building.
During the discussion at the Jan. 28 council meeting, Councilwoman Betsy Nash expressed some regret that the building would include only a small amount of new housing. "I'm very happy to see a project coming in downtown. I wish there was more housing and less office, but I understand that is how this one's working," she said.
Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Drew Combs lamented the fact that the three-story building is the only new development being proposed for Santa Cruz Avenue.
"As a part of the [El Camino and Downtown Specific Plan] we changed the zoning toward parcels on El Camino and on Santa Cruz as a way to incentivize development," he said. "And so far very few property owners on Santa Cruz have taken us up on that offer of greater ability to exploit their property. So I do think it's worth noting ... that this is ... the only project on Santa Cruz, and it doesn't look like there is another one in the immediate future."
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