MENLO PARK — A plan to build a large mixed-use development in downtown Menlo Park may need fresh tweaks to win approval.
That was the consensus at a Planning Commission hearing Monday on the project’s environmental impact report, which was recently modified. Though most people who spoke favored the Station 1300 project as is, some of them and a majority of the commissioners questioned the project’s public benefits and office-to-housing ratio.
The project, situated on roughly 6.4 acres between Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues along El Camino Real, calls for 181 apartment units totalling 210,000 square feet, fewer than the original 202 units because of stairwell issues, according to developer Greenheart Land Co. Also planned are a couple of three-story non-medical office buildings totalling another 210,000 square feet and “community-serving” uses such as retail and personalized services totalling 30,000 square feet. The project includes an underground garage that will hold roughly 97 percent of the planned 1,000 parking spaces.
Forty-eight percent of the site is dedicated to open space, including the creation of a half-acre Garwood Park along Garwood Way.
Patti Fry, a former planning commissioner, complained that the project would provide “11 percent less” housing than the maximum allowed at the base level, given that the project is in the residential zone of the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan. She later stated that the proposed project, which is at at the Bonus level, would have 43 percent fewer housing units than the zoning allows. The office portion is at the maximum allowed.
Bob Burke, a Greenheart principal, said if the company is forced to make a major change to its proposal, such as adding more housing, the parking garage would have to be built above ground, causing a 28 percent reduction in open space.
“If we have to go to the base level … there would be about 35,000 square feet less office space, apartments would go from 181 to 131 and retail would go from 30,000 to 10,000 square feet,” Burke said, adding that the company had not prepared a detailed analysis of the option.
“This should be a great project, and I think it has the makings of it … but offices bring rush-hour traffic and at the worst part of El Camino,” Fry said. “I think we need to look at additional offices at the bonus level as not being a bonus intrinsically to this area. It’s one of the few places we have close to transit for dense housing and it’s not taking advantage of that.”
Traffic was another issue that drew discussion at the hearing.
Given that the project will result in “significant and unavoidable impacts” to El Camino Real and adjacent roadways, Greenheart has incorporated traffic-reduction measures in its plan. City consultants estimate that after the project is built out, drivers would face an average of four extra seconds at intersections during peak hours.
The underground garage will have three exit points to spread out traffic, Burke said. The company also plans to issue Caltrain Go passes to residents and workers, and make a Zip car and electric bicycles available for use on site.
“Every renter and employee will pay for parking,” said Burke, adding that putting a price tag on parking spots will give them an “incentive to maybe not have a car.”
In addition, there will be bike storage and bike repair facilities for all, as well as showers and changing rooms for workers. Bike paths will also be extended along Oak Grove and Garwood.
“This is exactly what the Specific Plan intended to bring forward,” resident Skip Hilton of the auto-reduction measures.
Added resident Sam Wright, “Even if we were to … not approve any more development in Menlo Park, there’s a lot of building going on in Redwood City, Stanford, Palo Alto and El Camino. … Whether this project is approved or not, I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact.”
The apartments will average 900 square feet of space and be geared toward young tech workers, with monthly rents ranging from $3,300 for a 535-square-foot junior one-bedroom unit to $6,200 for a 1,549-square-foot three-bedroom unit. Ten of the units will be set at below market rate, ranging from $1,643 for a one-bedroom unit to $2,113 for a two-bedroom unit.
“We doubt really seriously there are going to be many families coming in,” Burke said.
The city’s planning division is accepting comments on the report, which is available for review at http://tinyurl.com/GreenheartEIR, through 5:30 p.m. April 4. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. After the comment period ends, the project will return to the Planning Commission, before possibly heading to the City Council for approval.
Email Kevin Kelly at email@example.com or call him at 650-391-1049.