Draft housing plan headed to council | October 24, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - October 24, 2012

Draft housing plan headed to council

Menlo Park must submit draft to state by Oct. 31

by Sandy Brundage

It's the sort of process likely to leave everyone unhappy in the end, aside from the three housing nonprofits that won a settlement from Menlo Park. The Planning Commission had much to say, as did the public, during its recent consideration of the draft housing plan update.

Residents are not letting higher density zoning into their neighborhoods without a fight. Sharon Heights residents were able to get Sharon Park off the site list; now those living near Rural Lane and the Linfield Oaks neighborhood have filed petitions in protest, signed by hundreds. Even if the sites are rezoned, that may not be the end of the argument — numerous public comments indicated that lawsuits were being considered.

Some residents spoke "to put a face on the emails you're getting" from those living in Stanford Weekend Acres and other areas near Rural Lane.

Janet Davis has been one of those leading the charge against rezoning Rural Lane. Her concerns include the potential burden on Las Lomitas School District, increased traffic hazards along Alpine Road and the lack of any public transportation nearby.

School officials echoed the concerns for their own districts. "As a superintendent I'm nervous. Every classroom is full," Menlo Park City School District Superintendent Maurice Ghysels told the Planning Commission. With facilities over capacity exacerbated severe cutbacks in state funding, local schools may struggle to expand even without a greater influx of students.

Some proposed answers rather than problems. One speaker referred to secondary units as "the invisible solution." If granted amnesty, enough currently illegal granny units may already exist in Menlo Park to put significant dent in the housing capacity the city must add, provided they meet safety standards.

Overcrowded schools and rural lanes aside, Menlo Park has no choice about adding enough high-density housing zones to accommodate space for 1,000 to 1,975 units as part of a lawsuit settlement over its non-compliance with state law. While the city is not required to actually build the units, it must provide incentives for developers to do so, according to the settlement approved on May 22.

State law requires cities to assess and plan to meet their fair share of regional housing needs, which includes affordable housing, every seven years. Menlo Park hasn't met the state requirements since 1992, but now only has until Oct. 31 to send a draft update to the state's Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

The Planning Commission's suggestions in brief:

•Tie any future development on Rural Lane to physical improvements to Alpine Road and avoid minimum density requirements.

•Count as many second units as possible.

•Tie school capacity to types of residential units, such as senior versus workforce housing.

•Zone for mixed use where appropriate, including incorporating existing viable commercial development on housing sites.

•Re-evaluate the below-market-rate housing program to reduce the cost of providing affordable units and to encourage the building of new affordable units.

•Work with nonprofits to process development proposals to fit with the financing needs for affordable housing.

•Support the creation of the affordable housing overlay zoning district. The downtown/El Camino Real specific plan includes zoning for 680 units, but those aren't necessarily going to be below market rate. An overlay — a special zoning district — could increase the chance that some developer would find the incentives appealing enough to build below-market-rate units.

The City Council scheduled its review of the draft update for Monday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m., both in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Tentative future meeting and workshop schedule

According to Development Services Manager Justin Murphy, the update process will include an environmental assessment and fiscal impact analysis to evaluate how higher density zoning could affect service and school districts should units be built. To allow for some of that information to be available for public review, staff has recommended postponing a series of community workshops from November to January.

Several commissions would review the draft update in December:

•Housing Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

•Environmental Quality Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. (to be heard later on the agenda to allow time for earlier Housing Commission meeting)

•Bicycle Commission: Monday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.

•Transportation Commission, Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.

•Planning Commission: Monday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.

•Parks & Recreation Commission: Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m.