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MP council to take first look at 48-home project

Original post made on May 10, 2008

Plans to build a high-density condo-commercial project at the site of the former Anderson Chevrolet truck lot on El Camino Real will be the subject of the City Council's May 13 study session.

  • See a rendering of the project.

    Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 9, 2008, 6:13 PM
  • Comments (22)

    Like this comment
    Posted by morris brown
    a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
    on May 10, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I understood Council had defined benchmarks for new projects in this time period and am confused and wondering why such a study session has been scheduled.

    My understanding is new developments along the El Camino corridor would not presently be entertained, unless they conformed to our existing general plan and zoning codes. The introduction given in the Staff report for this session, seems to confirm my understanding as being correct.

    The proposed project would require both a General Plan amendment and zoning change to be approved. The project is almost 60 feet in height, where 30 feet is the maximum. The project has a density of 40 residential units per acre where the zoning permits 18.5 units per acre. The project appears to have a FAR of 1.69 where the maximum would allow 0.75. It is totally non-conforming under the existing general plan and zoning codes.

    SO then why is this developer being given preferential treatment for a study session when the City council is on record saying non-conforming projects will not be considered while the visioning process is underway?

    Council asked the community to participate in the formulation of a new vision for the El Camino and Downtown areas. Now Council seems to be doing an “end run” by studying a project that would certainly affect the south end of that corridor. Why should our community have any faith at all in the visioning process if Council is just going to go its own way and study and perhaps approve projects regardless of the outcome of this process?

    Morris Brown
    Stone Pine Lane
    Menlo Park

    Like this comment
    Posted by farsighted
    a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
    on May 10, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    The staff report recommends against this project moving ahead while the visioning process is underway. Yet we are having a study session anyway.

    What do I surmise from all this? That the visioning project is a sham, that it will be business as usual in Menlo Park, and as soon as the "vision" is complete, we'll pretend it never happened. This developer just wants to be first to the trough when the gates re-open.

    Like this comment
    Posted by we need to know
    a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
    on May 11, 2008 at 6:44 am

    After reading the staff report the question of why is this study even being held arises and then of course who in the city Government promoted this session. Was it Councilman Boyle to appease his pro-development sponsors? Was it any other council person(s) for thus far reasons unknown?

    Was it our City Manager? I would hope that answers to these questions will be forth coming at this session. We need for each councilperson to give answers to these questions so that we understand what is indeed going on here.

    If "farsighted" has the correct view, then the community should demand the whole visioning process be ended, and ended right now, before any more time and money is expended. I don't hold that view, but I think we need complete and honest explanations from all the city government officials and this study session should provide plenty enough time to for those answers to be given.

    we need to know

    Like this comment
    Posted by cynical
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 11, 2008 at 8:58 am

    What's really wrong about this is that the announcement says study session and "possible direction". I thought we got rid of that egregious avoidance of public process when we got rid of the previous council. It is simply inappropriate to provide direction when it's not clear in advance what more narrowly the direction might regard.

    We shouldn't be surprised at this catering to development interests. Neither staff nor council seem to have the backbone to ever say no.

    Let's not get our hopes up that the visioning process is any better than in the past. As I think about it, the chances for the community to influence the vision have been amazingly few and short. Out of this delayed and prolonged process, there has been only about half an hour for feedback about many topics related to El Camino and the same for downtown in the SINGLE session held for each, and NO opportunities to talk about the differences between what different groups said (partly driven by the extremely short time) and why they said them.

    Those with vested interests in development have been well represented and other residents not so well, possibly because development isn't the focus of their lives. Isn't it a shame that if you miss one meeting you have no say in what the vision becomes? I can hear the defense now about the long list of meetings that ignores how little has been actual community input much less consensus building.

    Like this comment
    Posted by College Ave. resident
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 11, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    As a resident of College Ave, I know that my whole street is deeply concerned about the impact of this development on our small street. This development is, in my opionion, of an "urban" scale. Yet it is right next to two completely residential streets and, in fact, its egress is right on these residential streets. It will cause a huge amount of extra traffic on those streets due to the fact that neither College nor Partridge allows drivers to turn left onto El Camino. College Ave does not have complete sidewalks. People *walk* on the street. We have lots of families, many young kids. Yet any driver going North from the development or coming into the development from the west is going to be routed onto College. I understand the need for higher density housing and retail, but is putting a four story building with 140 parking spaces opening onto College and Partridge where the visioning process has been going? I hope not. I am stunned and disappointed that the city council would consider something of this scale abutted up to a completely residential neigbhorhood (in fact, they are taking over a triplex that is *part of* our residential neighborhood), and I'm horrified and angry that they would consider routing the traffic associated with that development through that residential neighborhood.

    Like this comment
    Posted by enough already
    a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
    on May 12, 2008 at 9:20 am

    College Ave resident, be prepared to be called a NIMBY. That's what happens when you protest any development. But I totally agree with you.

    I don't know what the visioning group will recommend, but given the politics of that task force, the result may be no more than a mealy-mouthed statement about ensuring the diversity of Menlo Park or similar pablum. I just wish someone had the guts to make the (politically incorrect?) point that it is crazy to put housing on El Camino, given how congested the street is already.

    Also note that the concept of "mixed use" is flawed. Some of the alleged existing mixed use properties (commercial downstairs, residential upstairs) are actually fully occupied by businesses. As long as no one in Menlo Park government seems to have much respect for the general plan or put much effort into code enforcement, this is only going to get worse.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Baffled
    a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
    on May 12, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I'm not opposed to Menlo Park adding some housing or mixed-use developments, but I've got to wonder, why would anyone choose to live on El Camino?

    The exhaust, the traffic, the noise, the train -- anyone who wants to live in that kind of urban chaos is going to choose San Francisco, because it offers the nightlife, art scene, transit and other benefits of a big city. Why put up with that in Menlo Park?

    Like this comment
    Posted by H. Winthrop Simpson
    a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
    on May 12, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Let's share the joy! Put these up in up in Sharon Heights or West Menlo! Or in Atherton.

    How about a zoning overlay over Tyco for high density housing and be done with this nonsense.

    Like this comment
    Posted by just not necessary
    a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
    on May 12, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Read the comments.

    This is a carefully architected spam forum led by the very same voices that fight all development (see the Derry gang), accuse all neighbors in opposition of conspiracies and try to wipe away any good efforts like the visioning process or the green ribbon work. I am sad to say that this group has lost my respect and my support for stooping to such a cowardly act as to choreograph their bitter comments like they do above.

    Watch the study session, they will be the only folks around to comment.

    I, for one, know who you folks are and I am extremely disappointed and saddened. I thought you were bigger than that. You lost me for good.

    Like this comment
    Posted by 2020 vision
    a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
    on May 12, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    No, that comment was not necessary. That's the kind of garbage that caused Mickie and Lee to lose by huge margins in 2006.

    I have yet to meet anyone in this town who is anti-development. Everyone I have talked to agrees that El Camino needs MAJOR renovation. Leaving it as is is just not an option. The issue (for the visioning committee and for all of us) is what sort of El Camino do we want?

    The developers want to maximize their profits. And that's fine, that's their job. But similarly, it's the city's job to maximize the benefit to the public. If everything works as it should, everyone settles on a middle ground that is as much of a win-win as possible.

    JNN, you sound like a bitter person. Maybe you can go hang out on the Palo Alto forum, which seems to be a much livelier place. Might cheer you up!

    Like this comment
    Posted by NoSpotZoning
    a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
    on May 13, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Why is it that a non-project, which has no application before the city, and to which the city has no legal obligation, is appearing before the City Council instead of the Planning Commission before the city has finalized its new plan for El Camino Real?

    The charge that the "Derry Gang" and so-called "residentialists" in Menlo Park "oppose all development" is false.

    Menlo Park has approved, without Controversy, *CONFORMING* development on El Camino Real, at Beltramo's, Menlo Square, Safeway, Chevron,
    145 ECR (office/Retail building at Cambridge) and other locations. In particular, Menlo Square was a conforming mixed-use housing project with conforming BMR units. There is *NO* example of a CONFORMING project on ECR being opposed or creating controversy.

    The *ONLY* projects that have raised controversy, including this one,
    are exactly those projects that do not conform to the existing zoning codes and General Plan and/or planning review process.

    Normal "study sessions" take place before the PLANNING COMMISSION, not the City Council.

    A "study session" for a development project is a gimmick used to bypass the normal project review cycle that includes the Planning Commission, Housing Commission, staff analysis, environmental analysis, and neighborhood input. The gimmick allows the Developer to *START* with the City council and "read" council members while they sit on the dais to "study" his concept. He uses the meeting to see if he can get three votes for a non-conforming project.

    A "study session" with "direction" is a legal tissue that allows the Council to take action as a result of this study session.

    The Brown Act and other legal requirements are fullfilled, by having staff schedule legal action at a separate, later meeting. But by the later meeting council members may already have decided or may be hopelessly prejudiced by what was said at the study session before there has been analysis or community input.

    This process is abusive. The developer is trying for a slam dunk from the decision makers based on a concept that is bait-and-switch architectural vaporware. It will conveniently change over time, sometimes dramatically, so that what was originally used to the city is not what is finally built or approved. The Derry project started out "conceptually" as rental units and morphed into luxury condos at the last minute.

    Frequently the developer will meet individually with three favorable council members between the study session and the later meeting to shore up their support.

    Often times the actual project approval is made by a completely different city council who are made to feel as if they are obligated to the project based on the earlier council's conceptual approval.

    It's all part of a well established game that is something of a dance well known to developers, and city staff members are knowing enablers.

    In this particular case, the ECR visioning process was supported and requested by concerned citizens to normalize the development and approval process and to avoid the controversies created by spot-zoned, non-conforming projects. The ECR process is revisiting the zoning code with the intent of updating it, if necessary, to allow for those types of projects and densities in Menlo Park.

    As far as housing is concerned, the update for the Housing Element of Menlo Park's General Plan was begun in 2000, and put on hold in 2002, by a "pro-development" council who thereafter spot-zoned for housing rather than finishing the Update.

    The Housing Element update creates new zoning, mostly in existing RESIDENTIAL (not commercial) zones, downtown and elsewhere, that will support about 1200 new units in Menlo Park and will allow Menlo Park to conform to ABAG standards.

    The Update to the Housing Element could and should have been finished years ago.

    The sad truth is that some housing advocates are so desperate for outputs, that they have no understanding or concern for process or law, so long as they get what they want, and are unaware of the irony that if they simply used planning processes they would have had more housing sooner.

    Instead they unknowingly support spot-zoning commercial zones for housing whenever commercial zones become vacant.

    When city councils blatantly abuse laws and process, they become vulnerable to a set of citizen-activist tools including the referendum.

    Incidentally, the developer, Duncan Matteson, is a Menlo Park resident, and one of the largest real estate developers in California.

    Like this comment
    Posted by College Ave. resident
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 13, 2008 at 11:45 am

    To whoever said that this is a "carefully architected spam forum", I'll just note that I have never been on this forum before nor have I been a part of any Menlo park "visiononing" processes (though I am inclined to now get involved!) I am not even anti development, I simply think that we need to develop in keeping with the surrouding neigbhorhoods, and I think a four story development that sends it traffic right into two small family oriented neigborhoods (instead of sending it directly onto El Camino) seems very strange.

    I'll also note that if we are trying to bring people to shop and spend their money in downtown Menlo Park, we should note that this area is, in fact a short walk from Palo Alto downtown and it neighbors the Stanford Mall. It is likely that the folk that live in these condos will be shopping those areas and will not feel highly connected with Menlo Park and its down town.

    But again, I will stress that I am not anti development, but simply feel that this development, as currently proposed, is out of scale wih Menlo Park in general, and in particular, with the highly residential neigborhoods that surround it. 20 condos, 1-2 stories and some retail would be one thing, 48 condoes, four stories, 140 parking places is too much, in my opinion.

    Like this comment
    Posted by College Ave Resident
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 13, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    I would like to repeat the question of why this project on College Ave at El Camino is even being considered by the City Council for this "Study Session" on May 13th when no-one has seen a draft of the "Downtown Vision Plan" being considered for development of El Camino? If anything useful comes out of this "Study Session" it may be simply to forewarn the council that the Allied Arts neighborhood is no longer asleep at the wheel when it comes to these type of projects being considered for El Camino. The City Council's Staff Report prepared in anticipation for tonight's meeting clearly points out this developer is trying to squeeze in a 4 story building consisting of 48 units of housing and 5100 sq feet of commercial space into a 1.23 acre site where the existing zoning only allows 18.5 dwelling units per 1 acre! What possible reason could there be for such highly dense, 4 story development so far from Menlo Park's core downtown and train station? Such a large development would simply put more traffic congestion on El Camino and further encourage cut-through driving and illegal parking on adjoining residential neighborhoods. This project would do nothing to promote the vitality of our existing downtown and actually draw people away from it, putting more cars on our already highly congested El Camino Real. I highly encourage everyone interested in preserving the ambiance and small town charm of the Menlo Park as it exists today to attend the special meeting of the Planning Commission set for 7:00pm on May 19th at Little House in Nealon Park at which they will unveil their draft "Vision Plan" for El Camino.

    Like this comment
    Posted by Menlo Park Resident
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 13, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    I am not opposed to mixed residential/retail--but why is the developer putting the retail in the back, in fact, right on College Ave (the proposal takes down 4 housing units on College and Partridge, which requires rezoning of the neighborhood). Why not put the retail on El Camino where it can be seen by potential customers, like all the other retail on that street? And why not require the developer to stick to the zoning requirements (as so eloquently stated above)? Why let the developer make the laws?

    The current city council came to office by bad-mouthing Winkler and Duboc as "pro-development" -- so what is this? Bait and switch? This is so much more abusive than anything Winkler and Duboc ever conceived. How ironic! How like a politician! Makes you wonder who is being bribed....

    Years ago, when the car dealership moved excess stock onto the corner of College and El Camino, the council agreed with residents that it is NOT appropriate to allow general traffic to access to the property from College; access was therefore closed off with a fence and trees. That's the precedent. It should still be closed off. Routing traffic from a mini-mall and 48 residences up College and Partridge to Blake, University, Cambridge, and Middle, which already have more than their share of speeding cars, is going to end up killing a small child. We've had near misses already.

    The developer, although abusive, will not be to blame if this goes through -- the city council will be to blame. To make good on their campaign promises, they don't have to do anything at all except say: this does not conform to the zoning requirements -- too tall, too dense, too poorly designed. Rezoning a neighborhood to accommodate a mini-mall is not appropriate, and city council members who support this should say NO to the concept and NO to any offers of gifts, meals at fancy restaurants, bottles of wine, and tickets to sporting events.

    Like this comment
    Posted by been there
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 13, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Having been involved in the Allied Arts dispute for over 4 years, my advice to your neighborhood is to act now. Organize, hire an attorney with a record of advocating for residents and with a demonstrated record of success in CEQA law before the developer bypasses more of the process.
    (three words: Susan Brandt-Hawley (or is that two words??) )

    Like this comment
    Posted by Gern Blanston
    a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
    on May 13, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Someone please help me understand this. In sagging real estate and credit markets Matteson Development Partners wishes to follow in the stumbling footsteps of the O'Brien Group and their Derry Project, by proposing a project of equal density and greater height on a much smaller property immediately adjacent to a single-family-home neighborhood? What madness other than greed possesses Matteson Development Partners? Are they unaware of or insensitive to the Derry referendum? Or are they just shooting for Derry-like proportions knowing full well they'll need to scale back to something like the referendum compromise? Makes no sense to me.


    Like this comment
    Posted by Organize
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 14, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Other approaches... change the council

    Don't re-elect Kelly Fergusson this fall.

    Consider yanking Heyward Robinson or John Boyle.

    Like this comment
    Posted by ValleyGirl
    a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
    on May 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Take one look at that artist's rendering and what do you see?
    That one long block monstrosity on El Camino in Redwood City.
    Recalling an old (1980s??) saying: Gag me with a spoon!

    This is just the developer putting up his "strip mall" design in an attempt to win over the council with a future "revised design" that is still bad, but not nearly as bad.

    The question is - will our naive council members fall for that old trick (or will they be totally stupid and approve it "as is" as Redwood City apparently did)?

    Like this comment
    Posted by speak up
    a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
    on May 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

    We have a chance to speak up, loud and clear at this coming Monday's El Camino and Downtown visioning workshop that starts at 7 PM in the council chambers. There will be breakout tables for workgroups there and in the admin building part way through.
    This is the next to last session about the vision (the last is 6/10 with the council). From what I can read in the staff report, the consultant has crafted a draft vision that isn't what I believe has been said so far from the previous workshops. So it's really important for everyone who can attend to SPEAK UP! If you can't go, consider sending comments to the and

    The staff report for next Monday's meeting can be picked up at the city admin building or find online at Web Link

    Like this comment
    Posted by ACautionaryTale
    a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
    on May 15, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    A cautionary tale to all you El Camino/Santa Cruz/Whatever Street "Visioneers":

    Remember "Your City, Your Decision"?
    A whole bunch of staged workshops, carefully gathering and compiling public input about reshaping the city budget.
    Then what happened after the well-paid consultant issued their report summarizing public desires?

    First, staff ignored it and put in their own specific budget recommendations for consideration by the council.

    Then, council ignored the staff recs and made pool privitization the centerpiece of their ultimate "plan" to fix the budget (along with the utility tax, which we really don't need, but hey, it actually passed, so we'll collect the money anyway - but that's a topic for a different thread!)

    And let's not forget the "Green Commission". Again, a lot of public input forged into a nice big document that now sits gathering dust somewhere while all that's been "accomplished" is making a token "forgive-me-for-I-have-sinned donation" to PG&E.

    So don't be surprised, Visioneers, when all your nice, wonderful ideas are casually thrown to the gutter when the first developer comes along wanting to "develop something" just like the case with this latest proposal.

    Enjoy your workshop next week!

    Like this comment
    Posted by disappointed
    a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
    on May 15, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Having glanced at the consultant's draft vision for the upcoming workshop with the planning board, I am quite disappointed that the consultant's vision includes some elements that I do not recall mentioned at all during the workshops I attended. Examples - it was only the consultant who brought up the parking garage near the Presb. Church, but it's part of the vision, and no group mentioned shuttles within the downtown but there they are. Where did the proposed park across from Safeway come from? Who's really influencing this process?

    On the plus side, the consultant mentions that people want to retain a village or small town feel. Unfortunately, some of their vision doesn't do that at all.
    When does the consensus building start? When do people talk about the pros and cons, benefits and disadvantages of various alternatives? I had hope for this process. I've heard the oversight group was disbanded. Don't we need them now more than ever?

    Like this comment
    Posted by enough
    a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
    on May 15, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Anyone else sick of developers who whine that abiding by the rules doesn't pencil out? Maybe you overpaid for the land!

    Adding housing to El Camino is crazy. And if we end up with a bullet train, no one with any brains is going to buy housing near the train tracks. Adding housing anywhere in Menlo Park and Atherton makes NO sense unless/until we can figure out where to put the schools, parks, and other services and facilities to serve all those new people. (Whatever happened to that Whole Foods they were going to build on El Camino?)

    Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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