I attended three "community workshops" on the specific plan where residents' voices were drowned out by developers, Stanford, downtown business owners, and over-zealous consultants. I spoke before the Planning Commission and the City Council prior to the specific plan being passed, begging (them) to keep it to three stories at the old car dealerships. The bottom line is that I would not be writing this letter if this were a reasonable project or if this were a hotel and senior housing as promised by Stanford, or decent retail and housing to drive tax revenue, or three stories. This project is too big, too ugly, too out of line with the current retail, restaurants, and neighborhood buildings adjacent to it, not to mention its complete opposition to the general plan.
Plain and simple, it's a square-footage grab of Menlo Park by Stanford, who had the power to build on these properties for years and chose not to until masterfully dictating the terms of the specific plan to their benefit. As they are doing with their 1.5 million square-foot development in Redwood City next to their offices on Broadway.
As designed, it sends the majority of exit traffic onto Middle Avenue. My neighbors from College, Partridge, Cambridge, Harvard to Creek are also concerned with increased and cut-through traffic. Calming efforts on those streets will make life worse for me. We've already seen the difficult Safeway exits onto Middle. What will happen when you add this project to that mess? We've seen on El Camino Real in both Palo Alto and Redwood City that three lanes get gridlocked as easily as two.
There has been a marked increase in traffic in the last six months. There are impacts of more traffic, worse air quality in my house and yard, and the noise from blasting horns and radios. I shudder to think what it will be like when this and the other Stanford projects are fully populated. There will be at least a year of construction noise, dust, and increased gridlock on residential streets.
I have lived in my home for 18 years — I grew up in unincorporated Menlo Park decades before that. I've seen bubbles and bursts, I have seen Stanford grow for better or worse, and if this project goes forward as is I would simply have to move. The financial impacts would be severe to me, but not as severe as this project would be to my quiet enjoyment of my home.
The specific plan environmental impact report is woefully inadequate to address these current impacts and needs to be redone. Not the least of these impacts are combining six parcels into one massive development, allowing more square-footage and removing side setbacks than individual parcels. The "whole is greater than the sum." A 30-year plan is eaten up with one project in one area. In addition, a majority of Allied Arts mitigation efforts would result in a worsening of the situation for me and my neighbors on Middle, which has not been studied.
I urge (the council) to scale back this bloated, car-trip generating, five-story, five-building office complex that does not exist anywhere else on El Camino on the Peninsula. Please use your authority to stop specific plan development until a new EIR and traffic studies can be done. This is not the low-traffic-generating senior housing we were promised. Disallow medical offices in favor of revenue- generating, smart-growth housing and mixed use more in keeping with the general plan, our idea of community, sustainability and long-term growth.
Elizabeth Houck, who lives on Middle Avenue, wrote this piece as a letter to the City Council.