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Menlo Park: Proposal for new office building causes alarm for Willows residents

Original post made on May 10, 2018

The Willows Market in Menlo Park could get a new neighbor. A proposal to build a new single-story, 3,584-square-foot non-medical office building is scheduled for review by the Menlo Park Planning Commission at its meeting on Monday, May 14.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 10, 2018, 10:56 AM

Comments (33)

Posted by Blondie
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 10, 2018 at 12:27 pm

What if their parking was available to Willows Mkt after 6pm and on weekends?

Posted by Willows Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Blondie is on the right track. My biggest issue with the plans I've seen is not just the limited parking but how it is configured. It adds another driveway to an already congested intersection complex. Perhaps they could be encouraged to coordinate with the Willows Market for unified parking under some sort of easement and increase the total by a few more.

Also if they are to be granted fewer spots than standard requirements because of the kind of use TODAY, what is being done to restrict the property to that type of use? I'd hate to see a high traffic tenant move in 5 years from now and cause issues.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 2:09 pm


that is not the issue. The problem as many of us see it is that by reducing the parking it is likely that if there is over flow it will either end up at the Willow Market or on neighborhood streets like Baywood. Also another turn off of Middlefield is likely to add confusion and more danger to bikes and pedestrians going to and from the market. It can also cause a back up on Middlefield Road when cars trying to make a left into the lot back up the left lane of the South bound traffic which already happens and will likely get worse. The intersections of Woodland and Middlefield and Willow and Middlefield were identified as two of the most problematic in the Willows, this will just make them worse.

Now the developer has a right to develop the lot, no one is saying that should nto happen, but they need to do it within the requirements and I think the city and the neighbors are justified in demanding that in addition to things like "encourage people to take alternate routes to work than driving solo by installing bike parking and showers, creating a guaranteed ride home program, participation in programs through and an info kiosk for commuters to learn about other options." Which is a carrot, they are required to sponsor a permit program for the surrounding streets, pay a penalty for exceeding the expected traffic volume in and out (Facebook does this) and be required to make sure they do not impact the Grocery store deliveries and parking as well as not impacting the Pre-school.

Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 2:47 pm

I agree with the sentiments above re: parking and safety at Middlefield and Woodland.

Also, office buildings already occupy all four corners of the Middlefield and Willow intersection. The area does not need more. What the area lacks is neighborhood-serving businesses. A coffee shop, bakery, dry cleaner, or even a small health club like Snap Fitness or Orange Theory would be a welcome addition to the area, and a more worthwhile tradeoff for the inevitable increase in traffic and congestion.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 10, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" The area does not need more"

That decision was already made when this area was zoned. If people don't like the current zoning then they should launch an effort to change the zoning. But the City cannot "spot zone" one site.

Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 4:52 pm

If the development project requires a use permit (and this one does, because of the parking exception) then the City is entirely within its rights to exercise greater degree of discretion in approving or conditioning a project.

In other words, there is no spot zoning problem in denying a proposed office if the proposed office would not comply with the zoning standards in the first place.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 10, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just like Stanford the developer could simply comply with the current zoning and forgo the exception - and then the city could not require any mitigation.

Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 5:10 pm

There used to be a gas station at this location. How is a small office building worse than a gas station? Complaints about traffic at this intersection are exaggerated. I've never had any problem here.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 5:30 pm


The gas station has not been there for what, 30 years? The traffic situation has changed slightly since then. If the business wants to comply with all the requirements of that zoning and will not have a negative impact on the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, nor the market and other nearby businesses then there would not be a problem and the neighborhood would not be as concerned. However the developers are asking for exceptions to the requirements and the neighborhood is rightly concerned.

Posted by David Lehmann
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 10, 2018 at 5:48 pm

I suggest letting the developer build a 2 or 3 story building, to free up ground level space for the required parking & traffic. There is already a 2 story building on the other side of the market, and another across Willow Rd.
Or put the 1 story building above parking, to end up with 2 stories, and lots of room on the ground?
Sharing parking with the market seems like a good idea, and using extra parking space for the food truck events would be great.

Posted by Vacancy next door?
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2018 at 7:52 pm

Hasn't the building on the corner two doors down been vacant for the last 7 or more years? Doesn't seem like the need for more office space in this location is so pressing as to justify allowing the parking variance. Just say no and let them come back with a compliant design.

Posted by 2 Cents
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 1:52 am

My 2 cents:

There is a dry cleaner (Menalto Cleaners) and wonderful cafe (Cafe Zoe) less than a mile away. That and other in-out businesses would mean more traffic.

If Nick Sharma opposes it, there must be a good reason as another office space would lead to more revenue for the market.

Even with the ability to co-share parking spaces (which I wish the other office building would do after hours), the primary problem is that they need to design the space to fit the parking required. The offset measured discussed (shower, bike parking, info kiosk and ect. are just lip stick on a pig because unless the worker lives in MP or PA I don’t see anyone using these services to offset the missing spots.

Why not go underground for parking? More expensive, sure, but that or make a smaller office to fit the parking you have onsite.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 7:29 am


The building you refer to is occupied and has been for several months at least. There is a VR Company there now. StriVR. I believe half of the Sunset buildings are now rented out as well.

2 Cents, I can't speak for Nick but I think one of the concerns for the market is getting deliveries. Their dock is at the back of the market and the current plans would restrict that access road and have parking along it which might not allow his delivery trucks to have access. Also there is a plan by the developers that would build a hard wall between the store and the office building that would prevent trucks, and probably make it difficult for large cars/SUV's to make the turn from the market parking to the service road to exit.

Posted by Patricia R.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2018 at 9:28 am

Sounds like the Willows Market and the nearby preschool got used to parking illegally in the public alley, and now are trying to make that sound like someone else's fault. Office is about the lowest-intensity use that this zoning allows, so if they're not ok with that, they're basically saying that the site should forever be undeveloped. If that's what they (and mega-commenter "Brian") think, then they should have bought the property and deeded it to the city as a park or whatever.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 11:20 am

"Mega commenter"? What ever. I prefer to consider myself a resident of the Willows who cares about his neighborhood. As for you assertion that the market and the pre-school are used to using the access road illegally that is incorrect. Have you looked at the plans for the new building? Have you seen where they want the entrance to their driveway? Have you looked at the request for a reduction in the parking requirement? Any idea what the proposed design and landscaping will impact the market? Are you familiar with the traffic issues in that area during peak commutes? I am guessing the answer to these questions is no, if I am wrong please enlighten us.

Posted by Patricia R.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2018 at 11:34 am

hi Brian, thanks for proving my "mega-commenter" point! That's pretty funny and un-self-aware of you. Yes, I looked at the staff report and plans (Web Link since they're linked to from the article. The plans look fine, and I saw a condition of approval requiring the back wall to be reduced to give even more of a buffer in the public alley. I even looked at the neighbor letters, including TWO from a Brian Gilmer. Is that you? If so, looks like you try to win arguments by volume even when you're not on The Almanac's blog!

Posted by kbehroozi
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 11, 2018 at 12:19 pm

kbehroozi is a registered user.

I sympathize with the Willows residents but I'm not sure their projections are accurate–and some of what they are asking for would make things much worse, not better. Adding parking means adding cars, which means more traffic. Adding another restaurant/public amenity would also result in higher traffic. There's no reason the Willows Market can't enforce no parking in their private lot–businesses do this all the time. Similarly, concerned residents of Clover Lane and other nearby streets could request that the city restrict on-street parking on their street (as they do in Downtown North, on Marcussen, and in Allied Arts). It's not that hard to enforce one-way entrances and exits. And there's no reason the developer and the Market couldn't come to some agreement about sharing the alleyway spaces after hours/on weekends.

Short of not developing this property at all–which doesn't seem like a fair or realistic expectation–this building looks like a reasonable compromise considering the space. The lower # of parking spaces means it won't appeal to high turnover businesses. I would caution the city NOT to encourage this development to max out their parking–if you build it, they will come (by car).

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Patricia from Menlo Park: other,

As someone who lives in the Willows and cares about my neighborhood and my neighbors I am going to comment on topics affecting us as well as replying to questions about the topics I have gotten involved in. If that bothers you then too bad, don't read them. But if you do want to reply at least make valid arguments or ask relevant questions. Is that too much to ask?

Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 4:12 pm

What about the resident who’s sun would be blocked by this?? How about the City buy the lot and make a mini park- grass- tables a ledge for safety from traffic and a nice picnic spot that the current businesses there could enjoy???
We need to stop trying to make Menlo Park big. Keep it small!!!!!!

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2018 at 5:25 pm

That's what we need is more traffic and less parking.....All those cut through vehicles from Palo Alto too. Maybe Mr. Combs can find away where Facebook benefits. When is enough is enough!

Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm

Brian: Okay for you to comment to your heart's content, as long as you don't claim to be speaking for everyone in the Willows. In my opinion, this issue is typical of so many arguments that break out whenever change is proposed in Menlo Park. It's just fear or opposition to change. If there were an office building or any other structure on this site, and it was proposed to demolish it and leave the property vacant, the same people would object, and would cook up reasons why it would be a bad ides.

Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 12, 2018 at 3:00 pm

This project's effects on the totality of Willow traffic is just so overblown! But it's obvious that the local/immediate effects to Willow Market and the alley need working out.

But the screaming willows residents need to be clear as to what they do want on that dirt lot rather than just complain- Gas Station (as before), Restaurant (with all the required parking), Fancy Retail (with even more parking)? A small office is your lowest impact/best bet. Or Willows Market needs to stop carping and buy the lot, merge their lots, and create something much better.

Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2018 at 11:15 am

"What about the resident who’s sun would be blocked by this??"

By this one-story building?

Posted by Own Goal
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 13, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Recent emails from "Lauri Hart/111 Baywood Ave" document the illegal parking by Willows Market customers and the neighbors's astonishment that someone might try to develop their property to its full legal extents:

Web Link
Web Link

It takes a lot to make me sympathetic to an office developer, but these "concerned Willows neighbors" are doing it!

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2018 at 7:51 am

Let me address a couple recent comments,

I do not pretend to speak for the Willows. No one, including our elected officials, can claim to speak for everyone. I speak for myself, I am sorry if you thought otherwise. I do know, because I have discussed it with several of the near by neighbors that what I am saying is in alignment with their position.

People have posted all sorts of ideas about what to do with the lot. Parks and green area, while nice, are just not going to happen. The developers leased the land and they want to build something that will be profitable for them. I think most people agree with this. However the issue is: should they need to follow the zoning requirements or should they get special treatment? I think they should follow what the requirements are for that zoning. I also don't want to see them build something that causes problems with the residential neighbors or locals businesses (Willow Market and Applebee's pre-school) which I frequent. These issues have been brought up directly to them many months ago and were not addressed. They have continued to ignore the concerns of the neighbors and so the Planning Commission is one of the last opportunities to address these concerns

I am curious as to what illegal parking people are referring to. Parking on the access street is not illegal. There are no signs saying "No Parking" and I see many city vehicles as well as police from Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, ambulances etc. parking on the access road when the market packing is full.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2018 at 12:29 pm

Based on the rendering, after this building is finished we'll all be driving sports cars on beautiful glinting streets.

What's everyone complaining about?

Posted by Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 14, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Rules are pesky when they don't support what one wants. In this case, the developer wants nearly 1/2 the amount of parking that the rules require. So why should there be an exemption? Shouldn't this be considered a variance request? How does the request fit the written criteria for that?

If the city is foolish enough to grant an exception to a rule, then there should be a written cap for traffic to the site, with big penalties for exceeding that.

The developer has a right to develop "something" on the site, but not to develop whatever they want, and particularly not something that defies city rules. Why bother with rules if they are dispensed with whenever someone asks???

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2018 at 11:07 pm

Just a quick update for anyone interested who did not attend the Planning Commission meeting tonight. The item was continued with the developer/architect being asked to find more parking (maybe not the full 22 spots but at least a few more spots or other alternative like shared parking, etc.) and to work with the market on the access for delivery vehicles. They were also asked to look at the other community feedback. It will be back but hopefully they make the changes necessary to be a good neighbor.

Posted by steve schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 15, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Has the remediation of the gas station soil residues been done to the extent that a residential use for the site is feasible? A difficult site at Willow & Bay/Van Buren was developed as residential 25 years ago. Presumably this situation would require a downzoning for the property as a fourplex for example that could presumable require only 6-8 parking spaces and be better than a vacant lot or more parking.

Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 15, 2018 at 5:53 pm

I don't have problem with development of the site but the developer has to follow the rules that are in place. The city can't grant exceptions and bend the rules when ever it feels like doing so.

Another 20-30 cars on the ridiculously clogged Willow Rd won.t make any difference. But the city needs to take seriously the concerns of the residents of the area and the Willow market owners. For once the council needs to put the residents and the store owners first and work out a suitable solution with the new developers

For those of the commenters who live in another part of town and want to complain about the people in the willows voicing their concerns they would feel the same way if this were happening in their part of town. Don't deny that you wouldn't. Be constructive with your comments or shut up

Posted by Rules
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2018 at 7:11 pm

The developer has the option to build a smaller project that requires less parking. That way, the project could fit within the rules.

Starting with an empty lot, the developer has little basis to beg for a variance.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2018 at 9:37 pm

Whoa, these Willow residents are hilarious! It looks like the owner is conceding way too much and the residents are still in an uproar. I hope their greed backfires and the owner builds a taller building and keeps ALL of the ground level as parking. Then, the Willows will have a lot more cars coming to the site, instead of the lesser amount that the owner wants to provide with rules. Then, what will the Willows complain about, if the owner satisfies parking with a taller building? Guaranteed no matter what is built, they will complain because the bottom line is that they want to continue parking illegally and want to put all of their "pretend" problems on this owner. If they cared this much about the smallest building I have ever seen, why wouldn't they have just purchased this small dirt lot for themselves? But ya, I guess a dirt lot is better than a tiny gorgeous building :) Be Happy Willows!!!

Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 16, 2018 at 8:37 am

is it a 35' height limit? that would be two stories over a parking garage no sweat. I say go for it!

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