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Council Screens Ideas for Belle Haven

Architectural team received input from public in early March.

A group of architects Tuesday night gave the Menlo Park City Council a host of ambitious ideas to beautify and modernize the Belle Haven neighborhood, just as Facebook prepares to set up shop at the old Sun Microsystems campus.

Largely the result of a 150-person strong March 5 charrette, or brainstorming session, the presentation sketched out ways to boost retail in the area, increase pedestrian and bicycle use, build closer to the waterfront through the bay lands and bring the neighborhood closer to the growing tech sector in east Menlo Park.

"There is an opportunity to revitalize this area and the city has to get it right," said Tom Gilman, a volunteer with the American Institute of Architects, San Mateo County chapter, which led the March study session.

The city has long planned to revitalize areas in Belle Haven and the Willow Business District. Facebook's February announcement to move to Menlo Park, however, brought the issue front and center. The old Sun campus is 57 acres and can house 3,600 employees. The social media giant is projecting massive workforce growth — 50 percent per year — which means the company may also begin developing a large lot owned by Ford Motors Corp. across Bayfront Expressway, according to Inside Facebook.

Although Facebook's move is playing a central role, Tuesday's presentation covered a much wider agenda for Belle Haven. The architectural team pondered higher density housing on the area's periphery, a vibrant retail hub with a farmers' market and free wireless internet and a more detailed trail network in bay lands. They also brought up the possibility of building playing fields and parks, as well as as a natural history museum and visitor center.

"This is one day," Mayor Rich Cline said after the presentation, referring to the barrage of ideas coming at the council. "Just to put it in perspective."

Council Member Kelly Fergusson emphasized the importance of building the museum and possibly and art center. Specifically, she said several Menlo Park residents have huge art collections, all of which could go on display. Also, she said connecting Belle Haven to the waterfront is an excellent opportunity.

"Connecting to the waterfront is so important," Fergusson said. "We have a unique opportunity here."

The March 5 session also included roughly 30 Belle Haven residents who, according to the architectural team, expressed some fears about being displaced during the redevelopment, or revitalization, process. Mostly, however, they told the team what they want to happen in Belle Haven.

Better pedestrian access — a bridge, for example, crossing Willow Road at Highway 101, a preschool for locals and Facebook employees, covered bus stops and possibly security cameras at hot spots in the area. 

The council took no action after the presentation.

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