Where should Menlo Park add new housing? | August 22, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - August 22, 2012

Where should Menlo Park add new housing?

• City holds community workshop to get feedback from residents.

by Sandy Brundage

About 50 people attended the Aug. 16 workshop on a project that will affect all 32,513 Menlo Park residents: figuring out where to add high-density and affordable housing in a community that would prefer not to.

The city must submit a draft plan to the state by Oct. 31 as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by three nonprofits over Menlo Park's lack of compliance with state housing law.

The city needs to identify sites to add at least 900 housing units, with more than half zoned as 30 units per acre. The city must also provide a homeless shelter with transitional housing.

"This law's insane," one workshop participant muttered during a staff presentation about the requirements.

The housing element update steering commission created a list of 25 preliminary sites to be evaluated as potential high density zones, which includes lots on El Camino Real owned by Stanford University, sites along Sand Hill Road near the I-280 intersection, and the site of the former Derry Lane project.

The workshop participants examined aerial views and descriptions of the sites, handing in comment cards with their evaluations. A frequent criticism was "too far from public utilities and transportation" for locations in Sharon Park and along Sand Hill Road, while 1300 El Camino Real and Derry Lane were praised for being close to public transit such as Caltrain.

Noting that one 2.2-acre site belongs to SRI, one participant asked if that meant the property was actually available.

Staff commented that they had met with many of the owners. "Some property owners who really do not want any housing on site whatsoever would likely come off the list. Unless there's overwhelming community support (for housing on that site)," said Justin Murphy, development services manager for the city.

Other options for increasing the city's housing stock include infill, or adding units to underdeveloped sites, and encouraging secondary units, also known as "granny units," on existing properties. Currently Menlo Park allows granny units only on lots of 7,000 square feet or larger.

The infill strategy, although "more complicated," according to Mr. Murphy, may allow the city to minimize the number of affordable housing units possible. State law defines a zone as potential affordable housing if the allowed density is at least 30 units per acre. "We're only required to provide the opportunity for affordable housing," he said — not build it.

However, it's not just people working in Menlo Park at lower incomes who need affordable housing, according to the city's data. One participant pointed out that newly single parents struggle to afford even local rentals as well. And given the projected upswing in the number of new retirees and seniors living in the community by 2025, with current median sales prices already at $897,500 to $1 million for homes, a critical segment of the population will be priced out of the community.

Menlo Park resident Jim Calhoun is eager to see how the new zoning could impact the property he owns on Hamilton Avenue, where he'd like to see housing built. "I'm too old to move, too young to quit," he said. He spent about $44,000 on plans and fees during the late 1990s, when it looked as if the city would rezone the area to allow housing development. After that fell through — "I ended up with a lawn."

The state must certify the updated housing plan as meeting the legal requirements, but the City Council will make the final decision on whether to adopt it. Go to the project website to review reports, maps and other documents related to the update.

The second community workshop will be held Thursday, Aug. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the senior center at 100 Terminal Ave. Comments may be submitted to the city through Aug. 24 at athome@menlopark.org or the Planning Division at 701 Laurel St.


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