BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park’s housing plan for the next eight years doesn’t put enough housing in higher-income areas on the west side of the city and has therefore been rejected, a state housing official wrote in a letter to City Manager Justin Murphy.
Program Manager Paul McDougall rejected the city’s 2023-2031 Housing Element for the third time on Tuesday, so the city is still out of compliance with state law.
That leaves Menlo Park open, for at least another few months, to more Builder’s Remedy projects such as a 300-foot building proposed across from Willows Market, at the former Sunset Magazine headquarters.
McDougall said the city needs to address the “stark contrast between different parts of the city in terms of income levels.”
Councilman Drew Combs had similar comments at a council meeting last week. He wanted the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, in the affluent west side of the city, to have an 80-foot height limit instead of a 30-foot limit.
Combs contrasted Sharon Heights from a development by Meta on the far east side of the city, called Willow Village. Council approved offices and apartment buildings in Willow Village up to 80-feet tall in December.
“Why would (Sharon Heights) be any less than what we would allow for Willow Village?” Combs asked last week.
He was supported by Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor, whose district includes Willow Village.
Other council members were hesitant and preferred a 60-foot height limit.
Mayor Jen Wolosin said she worries that if the city allows buildings that are too tall it will be out of proportion with the neighborhood and require more environmental review.
The city will have another discussion on the topic in the fall.
In his letter, McDougall also told the city to come up with policies that would protect residents from being displaced and strategies for revitalizing specific neighborhoods.
He is looking for specific numbers to measure the city’s success: for example, the number of households assisted or parks projects completed.
The Housing Element has frustrated council members across the Peninsula as they go through multiple rounds of back-and forth with state housing officials. The deadline to finish the plan was Jan. 31.
The former Sunset property at 80 Willow Road is owned by by Vitaly Yusufov, the son of Vladimir Putin’s former energy minister. Developer Oisin Heneghan of N17 Development turned in a Builder’s Remedy application in June for the property.
The project includes four towers, with the tallest reaching 348 feet — the tallest on the Peninsula.
“The proposal for 80 Willow Road is wildly out of scale with what our community has been planning for in terms of housing growth,” Wolosin said in a newsletter to residents earlier this month. Wolosin represents the district the project is in.
Wolosin has been joined in distaste for the project by Councilman Drew Combs, whose district ends across the street from 80 Willow, state Senator Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park and San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller, who is a former Menlo Park Mayor.
The project would include up to 1,150 apartments along with a hotel, offices and retail space.
The Builder’s Remedy is a provision in state law to incentivize cities to finish their Housing Element on time. Developers have rarely used the Builder’s Remedy before. But the state has made this Housing Element cycle more rigorous, and so more cities are open to it.
Only three cities in the Post’s distribution area have approved Housing Elements — Redwood City, Mountain View and Los Altos Hills.