Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter
Update from the Sustainable Land Use Committee: Menlo Park and San Carlos
By Irvin Dawid, former chair
Recently the Sustainable Land Use (SLU)committee has become involved in developmentsin two Peninsula communities, Menlo Park and San Carlos. Interestingly, the two developments are at the opposite ends of the planning stage, and therein perhaps lies an important lesson.
In October, SLU heard from Jim Pollart of Foster City-based O’Brien Group, developer of a three-acre lot known as the Derry Property opposite the Menlo Park Caltrain Station. Mr. Pollart explained the “mixed use” project (i.e. having residential, retail, and office components) to the committee with a diagram depicting the residential component (135 for-sale homes, with a density of 40 units/acre and 4 stories or 50 ft. high) backing up to the railroad track side of the project and stepping down to 3 stories on the El Camino side.
The project has garnered enormous political opposition. A referendum petition was circulated, and it gathered the requisite number of signatures, so the project is halted as the City Council deliberates whether to place the project to a vote of the people, or rescind its approval of the zoning change that made the project possible.
SLU members, while expressing support for a project that so clearly meets most, if not all, the committee’s objectives of being transit oriented, with an affordable component, and meeting the minimum density requirement, explained to Mr. Pollart that before the committee could recommend a position, it was necessary to “score” the project according to “green building criteria”. This is a new requirement, effective October, 2006, resulting from input from the chapter’s conservation committee.
The Conservation Committee should feel justified requiring a development be considered sustainable or ‘green’ if the Sierra Club is to put its imprimatur on it. Mr. Pollart has done his part. He has submitted a “Build It Green: Multifamily GreenPoint Checklist” for the Derry Property project. The O’Brien Group is the first developer to comply with the new guideline, and we appreciate his cooperation.
SLU will review the checklist at its February meeting, as well as await the outcome of the Menlo Park City Council deliberations on the referendum petition.
Meanwhile, in San Carlos, SLU was offered an opportunity by the chapter’s San Carlos-Belmont Group to participate in their December group meeting where Samtrans (San Mateo transit agency) and a developer discussed a project being planned on eight vacant acres adjacent to the San Carlos Caltrain Station. The project, which is only at the beginning of the planning stage, clearly meets the criteria described above, i.e. sufficient density, transit oriented, and mixed-use.
The developer chosen by SamTrans, Foster City-based, Legacy Partners Residential, was given the “green guideline” criteria at the onset, so they know what is necessary to comply with the SLU guidelines for endorsement. Should the Legacy project receive a SLU endorsement in the future, it is hoped that the Sierra Club support would help the community understand the benefits of these types of developments. They add to a community’s vitality, provide housing opportunities for city workers and their children, and most importantly in a world facing the imminent dangers of climate change, reduce the “carbon footprint” of the community by allowing more workers to live closer to their jobs and be less auto-dependent.