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Council Ratifies New Land Use Guidelines

Future development in Menlo Park must adhere to the El Camino Real/ Downtown Specific Plan.

Five years and almost $1,691,240 later, the city of Menlo Park has a new set of guidelines for construction downtown. The cost of preparing this plan will be passed on to future developers.

Menlo Park’s City Council approved the El Camino Real/ Downtown Specific Plan Wednesday morning, an act that will increase the cost of square footage in downtown and along El Camino Real by $1.13 a square foot.

According to staff reports, here’s what that will pay for:

  • Consultant costs: $1,191,390
  • Staff costs: $374,850
  • Contract attorney: $100,000
  • Operating costs: $25,000

Councilmember Rich Cline moved to approve the plan, with Councilmember Peter Ohtaki seconding it. The council unanimously voted to approve all of the Plan’s elements that were on the docket at 12:20 a.m.

They did not, however, agree on the public benefits of the plan.

Councilmember Andy Cohen advocated the “Solomon” approach. “You gotta take that sword and make a compromise,” Cohen said.

Cline advocated for the creation of a standard formula that the city could use to determine what kinds of benefits could be negotiated for the public when a developer applies for a building permit in town. Councilmember Kelly Fergusson argued at length for two tiers of permits that would create a “trigger” for that negotiation process. Subsequently, she moved to find the middle ground in the permit process, with Cohen seconding her. 

Thomas Rogers, city planner on the project, countered that altering this would force a reevaluation of multiple items within the ECR/DSP and negatively impact the city’s impending . If changed, the city would not be able to assume that it could accommodate 680 more housing units.

That motion failed; discussion ensued.

Eventually, it was truncated by sheer exhaustion, with the final votes being conducted at about 12:20 a.m. after almost five hours on the dais without a break. More than 40 people spoke for at least three minutes each about the ways that this plan would impact their lives. Some argued that the 1950’s-esque character of Menlo Park should go away, while others said they wanted to preserve the city’s village charm. Not everyone was able to withstand the demands of the hour.

As meeting attendees trickled out the door,  Council approved the following:

  • A parking management plan 
  • Requirement that future developments be LEED certified
  • Retention of the public benefits threshold as stated in the ECR/DSP
  • An ongoing review process that will start in two years
  • The Final Environmental Impact Report

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Andrew Boone June 07, 2012 at 02:31 AM
How could the City Council have approved the plan "with a 5-1 vote"? There are only 5 city council members, not 6.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) June 07, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Thanks for pointing out my typo, Andrew. Public presentation of information keeps people on their toes. Cheers.
Gregory June 07, 2012 at 04:52 AM
As if it weren't already prohibitively costly to develop commercial real estate in Menlo Park...

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