Menlo Park action on new
housing plan in final stretch
By Sandy Brundage
The fact that the housing element staff report came with 26 attachments, lettered from A to Z, predicted it would be a very long night on May 21 as the Menlo Park City Council entered the final round of fine-tuning the city's housing plan update.
By the time the meeting ended around 1 a.m., the council voted 4-0, with Rich Cline absent due to travel, to introduce most elements of the new housing plan. The council modified one clause related to how much stucco can be used on a facade when there is new construction — a maximum 80 percent seems preferred — and postponed a vote on how to regulate secondary, or granny, units.
The council agreed with rezoning four sites as potential locations for high-density housing development:
• Gateway Apartments at two locations: the 1200 block of Willow Road and the 1300 block of Willow Road. Both sites are owned by the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition (78 units total).
• Hamilton Avenue East located in the 700 and 800 blocks of Hamilton Avenue (216 units).
• A site in the 3600 block of Haven Avenue (540 units).
A fifth site, with enough room to create 60 units on the Department of Veterans Affairs campus in the 700 block of Willow Road, is also on the list, but doesn't require rezoning.
Five Belle Haven residents spoke out against clustering the new units in their neighborhood, raising concerns about equity, crime and property values. Johnny Walton said that early in the housing element process, property owners who lived in areas being considered as potential low-income housing zones said no, while those who owned property but didn't live there said yes.
"I think that should be really considered," he told the council. "If we're the ones that have to live next to it, that should be considered."
City Attorney Bill McClure noted that the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan includes zoning for nearly as many units of affordable housing as the Belle Haven neighborhood would, and provided references to several nationwide studies that he said showed affordable housing did not lower property values provided the sites were managed well.
While Sharon Heights and Linfield Oaks residents successfully campaigned to remove their neighborhoods from consideration from this housing update, city staff has said that the next update cycle — which starts as soon as the current update is approved — will once again look at sites throughout Menlo Park.
The update is a part of a lawsuit settlement over the city's failure to comply with state housing law for the past 10 years. Menlo Park had to find sites where zoning changes could allow construction of about 900 new housing units, with 454 units dedicated to affordable housing. The settlement also requires the city to provide zoning incentives for developers to build affordable housing, including within the new downtown/El Camino Real specific plan area.
But those affordable units may not get built. Developers can choose to construct only market-rate housing. Greenheart Land Company, which plans to develop 777-821 Hamilton Ave., is going to stick with market-rate units, representative Steve Pierce told the council.
The council opted to pull granny units from consideration on May 21 in favor of having a separate discussion on June 4. A public speaker questioned the need to restrict granny units to one bedroom, stating that would prevent caretakers from staying with their clients as needed, particularly in cases where the units provided housing for people with disabilities or the elderly.
Council members later debated the allowable distance between structures and whether owners who want smaller setbacks should be required to get neighboring property owners' approval first, or to go through the city's potentially expensive variance process.
The discussion eventually took its toll.
"I hope you guys all understand what you're talking about. Because I've reached that point where this is starting to become Charlie Brown language to me," Vice Mayor Ray Mueller noted as the meeting rolled on past midnight.
The last step in the update process is scheduled for June 4, when the council will hold a second reading of the housing element update and then vote to adopt the zoning changes. Should council members wish to make changes to the ordinances they still have the opportunity to do so, staff said.
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