Controversy Erupts Over Proposed Menlo Park Development
A proposed development along El Camino Real has sparked a bitter debate pitting Stanford University and billionaire real-estate developer John Arrillaga against a group of Menlo Park citizens who claim the new project will greatly diminish the city citizens’ quality of life.
The proposal would place a new development consisting mainly of new housing and medical offices on five currently unused lots that once housed car dealerships. The current plan calls for five three-story buildings across eight acres and conforms to Menlo Park’s “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan”, the city council’s vision for the future of the downtown area.
Arrillaga and Stanford argue that the development will revitalize its section of Menlo Park and bring welcome growth to the city. Many Menlo Park residents, however, have voiced serious concerns about some aspects of the project.
The group “Save Menlo” objects primarily to the increased traffic that could result from the development. Arrillaga and Stanford’s plan calls for parking space for over 1,000 cars. In addition to new residents, the development will bring a high volume of patients visiting the medical offices, Save Menlo claims. When combined with the existing traffic on El Camino, Save Menlo members say, this new traffic could be a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross the street. Furthermore, many worry that drivers will cut through residential neighborhoods in an attempt to avoid congestion.
Other issues exist as well. Opponents have pointed out the incongruity of multi-story, modernist buildings across the street from existing single-story buildings in Downtown.
This potential shift in the character of the city has alarmed some residents.
“I feel personally…that we need to save all those things we hold dear,” said Save Menlo spokeswoman Perla Ni.
In order to go forward, the proposal must win the approval of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.
At a January 28th meeting of the commission, one Commissioner, Henry Riggs, seemed to agree with those who feel the new development would be out of character, remarking that, “this is not the architecture I expected from the guideline that it be harmonious with the neighborhood.”
Other members of the commission, however, cautioned that rejecting the proposal could be an overreach of authority and pointed out that the proposal meets the requirements of the Specific Plan. The Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposal later this year.