Proposed developments eat up growth allocation that was supposed to last until 2040

The logo that appeared on the Menlo Park zoning plan for the city's east side.
The logo that appeared on the Menlo Park zoning plan for the city's east side.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Nearly two years after the Menlo Park City Council approved a new zoning plan for the city’s east side, which was supposed to last until 2040, the amount of office space allowed under the plan has already been eaten up.

The plan allowed for 1.3 million square feet of office space to be built in the area east of Highway 101. Right now, there are applications with the city’s planning department for nearly 2.1 million square feet of office space, according to a report from Community Development Director Mark Muenzer’s department.

Patti Fry, a former planning commissioner, said it’s “egregious” just how quickly the allotment was used up.

“I think someone needs to get fired and the city needs to get the money back from the consultants,” Fry said, pointing out that the city spent a lot of time “earnestly” trying to create a well thought out planning document for the area.

The zoning plan, called ConnectMenlo, was approved on Nov. 29, 2016, in order to increase development on the city’s east side.

Since then, five projects have been formally filed with the city. They are:

• Facebook’s Willow Village, which will have 1,500 apartments, 1.75 million square feet of office space,a 200-room hotel, 126,500 square feet of retail space and a 40,000 square foot cultural and visitor center.

• 1350 Adams Court, 260,400 square feet of life science space,

• 111 Independence Drive, 94 apartments,

• 1105 O’Brien Drive, 685 square feet of retail space and 104,587 square feet of life science space,

• 162 Jefferson Drive, 318,614 square feet of office space.

Facebook’s 1.75 million square feet of office space exceeds the city’s entire allotment alone. The addition of the 164 Jefferson Drive project makes the proposed office space development exceed the allotment by 768,614 square feet.

According to the report from Community Development Director Muenzer’s department, some of the overflow office space may be reduced with Facebook’s demolition of current buildings at the future site of the Willow Village. However, if that does occur, any other future project would go over the office cap.

With this overflow of office space, the city council will have to decide what it wants to do about the cap that it set. The report sets out four options:

• Keep the cap as is. That means projects that fit within the cap will be approved first, and projects that don’t fit in the cap will have to take another route.

• That route would be to apply for a general plan amendment, where the developer would have to make the case to the planning commission and council why they should lift the cap for that specific development.

• The council could decide to lift the cap.

• Shift some of the space set aside for life science developments to the office space cap.

The council will not be making a decision on the issue at its meeting this week.

This is not the first time that one of the city’s zoning plans has been outpaced by growth. The El Camino Real-Downtown Specific Plan, which was approved in 2012 for the purpose of limiting growth in that area for 20 years, has nearly exhaused its supply of commercial space for new developments.

Planning Commissioner and council candidate Drew Combs said it feels like deja vu. “Clearly we under estimated these things during planning,” he said.

As for next steps, Combs says the city may want to pause on taking action on expanding the cap or not until after the November election, when someone representing the Belle Haven will be on the council.

This year, the Menlo Park City Council will begin being elected by districts, meaning each of the five council members will represent a specific area of the city. One of the districts represents the east-side Belle Haven area alone.

“It wouldn’t be wise to engage in a major project or initiative like this right on the eve of someone who represents residents specifically from this area joining the council,” Combs said.

Combs is running for city council as well, but to represent the Willows and Flood Triangle neighborhoods. However, Combs is recused from discussions regarding the east side’s zoning plan because he works for Facebook.