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Please fix the Specific Plan

From: domainremoved <Patti>
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2013 15:55:09 -0800

Dear City Council,
The Specific Plan isn't working quite as intended. You don't need to throw
it away but it does need to be amended. Now. The joint recommendations of
the Sierra Club and SaveMenlo organizations would go a long way to repair
what is getting of whack.

The Council's decisions of June 2012 regarding the greatly increased Base
threshold and mix of uses were largely based on consultant analyses that a
new Base "by right" development level was needed to stimulate new
development, especially on El Camino where weedy vacant lots have troubled
the entire community. The same report, issued April 2012 stated that office
uses were unlikely to attract development for the foreseeable future. The
Council decided to revisit the Specific Plan, and the threshold levels in
particular, in one year.

We now have information from both small and large projects along El Camino
Real about the market, what is attractive to developers, and how the
Specific plan works to support its Vision . It isn't what was expected in
such a short amount of time:

* The old rules work to stimulate development -- Relatively small projects
of various types, including all-housing, all-office, and mixed use, that
were approved under the pre-Specific Plan rules have been under

* Office uses are very attractive to developers -- Within a few months of
the Specific Plan's approval, Stanford came forward with a project that was
nearly 2/3 Office. Greenheart just recently has come forward with a project
with about 50% Office, nearly double the amount of Office of the prior
projects on the 1300 El Camino and Derry sites

* Nearly every post-Specific Plan project to date has required some
additional negotiations, even when at or below the Base threshold --
Marriott Inn for parking; Mermaid Inn for renovation and expansion;
Stanford for its plaza, traffic, and support for undercrossing; and now
Greenheart for an as-yet undefined Public Benefit

* The negative impacts anticipated in the Specific Plan EIR over the next
20-30 years maybe exceeded shortly -- The Greenheart proposal appears to
require a new Environmental Impact Report even though the Specific Plan was
intended to last 20-30 years and its EIR was intended to cover expected
development under the Plan for the same timeframe

* Virtually no retail is included in projects despite Menlo Park's General
Plan guidance to provide community-serving retail (includes restaurants)
along El Camino (and "small-scale" office in balance with other uses) --
The Stanford project includes the minimum required retail of 10,000 SF in
its proposal; that comprises about 2% of their project. The Greenheart
proposal where there was a previously approved project at the old Cadillac
dealership and a previously negotiated project (post-referendum) on the
Derry site includes 35% less retail and more than 200% greater office for a
new project that is 60% larger than the prior projects combined.

In contrast to what is happening with recent projects, the Specific Plan's
EIR illustrated what was expected -- a balanced mix of 2/3 housing, only
17% office, 6% retail and 10% hotel. With few opportunity sites remaining,
except the Big 5 shopping center site, the remainder of the sites are
relatively small. ALL of them could become primarily or entirely office
because of the high Base threshold and the high allowed % of that
threshold, billed as a "limit" but acting as a stimulant. Without a change
in the threshold and % of it, developers can build all-office projects "by
right" that are in most cases 100% larger than previously allowed "by
right" on El Camino, leaving the community with no leverage to modify them
in any way other than their look and feel

I highly recommend the Sierra Club/SaveMenlo proposal to limit Office to
25% of the Base on El Camino as an excellent way to ensure that the
Specific Plan's vision and the General Plan's guidance are fulfilled, and
the community process that created them are honored. Additionally, please
lower the Base threshold on El Camino to the prior Use Permit level,
leaving the Bonus level as is. In most cases, this provides nearly 40% more
"by right" development and returns some needed opportunity for structured
negotiation and control of projects to help ensure their mix is good and
that they fuifill well the Specific Plan Vision. Without such control, the
city has little ability to ensure projects are really good. We know there
will be negative impacts of additional development. We need more ability to
ensure there will be really positive impacts, too.

Respectfully submitted,
Patti Fry, Menlo Park resident and former Planning Commissioner

PS A file with some illustrations of what is happening are attached.
Sometimes pictures communicate better than words.

Received on Tue Nov 19 2013 - 15:54:46 PST

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