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Letter: Why commissioner voted for office, retail

Original post made by Richard Hine, editor of The Almanac, on Oct 16, 2009

This letter from Menlo Park Planning Commissioner John Kadvany was published in the Oct. 14, 2009, edition of The Almanac.

I voted as a planning commissioner for the office and retail option at 1300 El Camino Real (old Cadillac dealer site) without housing. Why?

First, I was reasonably convinced by the developer's suggestion that a pure retail/office mix at 1300 El Camino would motivate a new housing proposal at the neighboring Derry site. Instead of creating housing competition, office/retail at 1300 would complement the housing nearby. A larger office building could also be attractive to a large anchor office tenant, a plus for Menlo Park downtown development.

What about the goal of transit-oriented housing along El Camino? Well, that doesn't mean housing on every single parcel. A great deal of free space is still available on El Camino for housing and will be developed through the new Specific Plan.

More importantly, my vision is for the Derry site and 1300 El Camino to be planned together as a unified neighborhood, especially along the "seam" connecting the two sites from El Camino back toward the train tracks. The goal is to facilitate pedestrian traffic back toward the tracks, and to motivate walkers and bicyclists from the trackside to come over to the new development by avoiding El Camino.

I discussed this issue several times in Planning Commission meetings on 1300 El Camino. Unfortunately, with only the 1300 project up for review, little could be done to coordinate planning of the combined eight acres. There's now a narrow walkway planned between the two sites, the best possible option without a design for the Derry area. It's far from what's needed to make the overall plan a great one.

My conclusion, especially recognizing the developer's lack of motivation for creating a housing project, was to get their project going, and take a risk that the remaining Derry site will have a great deal of housing. Most of all, I wanted to set strong expectations for how the two projects are to be integrated into a well-designed urban neighborhood. This is our best shot at meeting goals of neighborhood design, vibrancy, and walkability for this area. I look forward to seeing a project meeting those goals proposed in the near future.

John Kadvany, Menlo Park planning commissioner

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