Menlo Park downtown plan heads to the City Council | May 9, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 9, 2012

Menlo Park downtown plan heads to the City Council

by Sandy Brundage

The "p" word dominated discussion of the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan at the Planning Commission meeting on April 30.

Actually, there were a lot of "p" words: paseo, pedestrian, project, plan, plaza, permit. But the one hurled around most often was "parking."

Members of the Downtown Alliance and Lions Club tallied up spaces lost and gained, and worried about the impact on local businesses and the farmers market if spaces vanish.

Alliance co-founder Nancy Couperus suggested keeping diagonal parking along Santa Cruz Avenue. If a parking garage is really necessary, she said, it should go in plaza 2, off Oak Grove and Chestnut Street.

She also asked that the city's trial installation of a small marketplace off a Chestnut Street paseo take place during a busy time of year to measure the true impact on parking, and for staff to establish criteria to determine whether the trial succeeds or fails.

Other public speakers all but shouted "hallelujah" at the thought that the specific plan, at least five years in the making, may be approaching the finish line.

But one word no one — commissioners and staff included — threw around was "perfect."

Architect Sam Sinott called the plan truly democratic, "truly the voice of the people." He urged the commissioners to reconsider requiring new buildings to meet higher environmental standards than already required by the building code.

"In Menlo Park we have the habit of stacking on requirements until they break," he said. The higher standards would add "5 to 7 percent" to the cost of building without really gaining anything, while the city needs to encourage, not discourage, developers, he told the panel.

Implementation of some aspects of the plan inspired deep interest by the commissioners, such as prioritizing a bike and pedestrian undercrossing on Middle Avenue at El Camino Real. However, since the specific plan is only a framework for future development and not a project itself, they were ready to call it done.

"I see us polishing the silver at this point," said Commissioner Henry Riggs, later adding, "I think the specific plan is done" in terms of being able to forward it to council.

So, after midnight, the commission voted 6-0 to send the plan onwards, recommending council approval with some small tweaks. Commissioner Ben Eiref participated by telephone during the initial hours of the meeting from an East Coast airport, but had to hang up before the end.

"I don't know if any of us would've signed up in 2007 if we knew it was going to take this long," Commission Chair Katie Ferrick noted.

Following the Planning Commission meeting, rumors surfaced that some downtown merchants want to see the plan appear on the ballot. Ms. Couperus said the Downtown Alliance hasn't taken any steps in that direction, but wasn't surprised that businesses downtown feel threatened in the face of losing parking spaces on Santa Cruz Avenue "for what seem to most people really silly proposals — the pocket parks and an undefined marketplace."

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to review the specific plan on June 5 and June 12.


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