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An Architectural Review Board in MP?

Original post made by Marianne Q. Dean, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park, on Feb 9, 2007

What are your thoughts? It seems to me that some of the debate in MP about housing/building/density really comes down to issues of good vs. bad design. When folks mention "high density" they envision massive ugly poorly designed blocks for which there are many unfortunate examples.

I think the polarized debate is unproductive ... there are win-win solutions ... lets find them.

Hmmm ... should we enlarge the city council by 2 for a total of 7 to help break up the block voting? More voices may broaden the council's perspective.

Comments (7)

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Posted by John Nash
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2007 at 7:45 am

There are several ways to move the conversation from a polarized debate to a constructive solution. Many of our neighboring cities and towns have examined the idea of architectural review and have come up with successful solutions that respect neighborhood integrity and simultaneously allow for growth and enhancement of property values. I would welcome a chance to participate with others to find a good solution for Menlo Park. What do others think?

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Posted by J. Edgar
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2007 at 6:58 pm

"...massive,ugly, poorly designed blocks for which there are many unfortunate examples" is a pretty general statement obviously meant to stir reaction. But I'd love to hear specifics. I have yet to see a design in my neighborhood that I'd describe as poor taste. Our extremely well educated, upper socio-economic class inhabitants are not out to make victims of those around them and alienate everyone who owns a rancher. The cries of suburban blight are a little too NIMBY for me.

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Posted by John Nash
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2007 at 10:56 pm

So, Marianne, when you refer to "housing/building/density" together under a header that asks if we should have architectural review in Menlo Park, are you referring to downtown development that involves block-sized development (as in the Derry project), or are you talking about new homes in the R1 neighborhoods that are referred to derisively as McMansions?

I think J. Edgar thought you were talking about residential neighborhoods (I did, anyway).

In either case, architectural review would not be an outgrowth of increased council membership. This council is on the record in stating it is loathe to "design from the dais." Therefore, if you truly desire a city endorsed body to conduct architectural review, it would have to come, in my opinion, from a change in the mission of the planning commission. Barring that, the city would need to create a new commission with the mandate to conduct such reviews.

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Posted by SmallTownNeighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2007 at 4:35 pm

In order to preserve the non-urban small-town feel of Menlo Park we need an updated plan related to housing, traffic, parks, schools etc. And we need what nearly every other nearby community has - residential design guidelines and a process that encourages early discussions about potentially McMansions and other intrusive designs. I don't think we need an Architectural Review Board as long as the guidelines address the most pressing issues that get people upset. There are plenty of good models around so we don't start from scratch like Mickey Winkler's poorly thought out inventions.

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Posted by John Nash
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2007 at 8:01 am

You make a nice distinction, SmallTownNeighbor, between an architectural review board and residential guidelines. It's a step in the right direction away from a creating new layers of bureaucracy. That is, we could let a set of guidelines drive the development that we all hope to see (that respects neighborhoods and supports growth and value). I have to admit, I don't know all the good models other towns and cities like ours have used. What have you heard? I understand Los Altos developed design guidelines. Are their's a model in your mind?

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Posted by Pam Salvatierra
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2007 at 3:10 pm

I agree with the idea of residential guidelines that provide respectful design specifications that support our neighborhood communities. Let's look to neighboring communities as suggested and evaluate their models. No need to reinvent the wheel if there are models that will fit with our vision for Menlo Park.

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Posted by SmallTownNeighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2007 at 4:30 pm

Nearly all peninsula cities have guidelines and most of them use administrative approval process as long as the guidelines are followed and there aren't disputes. According to literature available during the referendum of 2004, such cities include Portola Valley, Burlingame, Campbell, Foster City, Woodside, Hillsborough, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Palo Alto. Most of these use guidelines in an approval process that is administered by staff unless there are complaints or the guidelines are not followed. Then the project generally goes to a discretionary body like the Planning Commission.
Menlo Park is rather unique in that residential projects here are either reviewed by the Planning Commission (when the lot is substandard and a 2nd story is involved)or there is absolutely no neighbor notification or review. It appears that most other cities have taken a middle ground.
By the way, Atherton uses no guidelines but their rules are more strict than Menlo Park's. On the same sized lots, the houses in Atherton must be smaller and further away than in Menlo Park!

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