Stanford amends development plans, but some neighbors unappeased

A series of negotiations between Stanford University and a Menlo Park City Council subcommittee tasked with listening to the community's concerns about a proposed El Camino Real development resulted in several project modifications, but may not placate opponents.

Stanford altered its initial plan for a mixed-use development on the 8.5-acre parcel — a stretch of land littered with partly vacant car dealerships — to include a new pedestrian plaza as well as an underground pedestrian and bike crossing at Middle Avenue. Stanford also removed all of the medical offices, one of the most contentious issues with the community.

City Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, who sits on the subcommittee, said the modifications address many community concerns.

“We explained the situation and our concerns with the project, and Stanford listened,” Carlton said.

But a neighborhood group that opposes Stanford's development has raised more than $7,500 to fill its war chest, according to Perla Ni of Save Menlo Park.

In what the group believes will be a prolonged legal battle, it plans to use the cash for marketing and outreach, and to retain legal counsel. The $7,500 is just the beginning, and in the long run the group hopes to raise about $50,000, Ni said.

“Stanford is in it for the long haul, and so are we,” Ni said.

Save Menlo Park's aggressive posturing comes after a series of negotiations between Stanford and the subcommittee eliminated all medical offices but retained 170 residential units and office and retail space.

The medical offices were removed due to concerns regarding the traffic generated by such uses. Stanford also agreed to fund a new traffic analysis to replace a several-years-old city study.

“It makes a big difference to take the medical offices out,” Stanford spokeswoman Jean McCown said.

Other changes will benefit Menlo Park too, Carlton said, especially the proposed public plaza.

“Everyone loves the other plazas on the Peninsula, and the project needed more open space,” Carlton said.

But members of Save Menlo Park and some other residents don't believe the changes do enough to address their concerns.

“The development is too big and too wide,” Ni said.

She complained that the public was shut out of the negotiations with Stanford, saying city officials “met secretly” with the university — a charge denied by Stanford and Menlo Park.

“We met with bicycle groups, environmental groups, neighborhood groups,” Carlton said, “And we listened intently to what they wanted changed.” Carlton also pointed out that even if the changes are submitted with the project application, it's far from a done deal.

“This isn't finished,” she said. “We haven't seen a new proposal.”

For the city, the next step is to await the results from the traffic study Stanford funded — which should be complete in October, McCown said.

In the meantime, Save Menlo Park plans to tap its resources.

“The last time someone tried to destroy our community, the neighborhood raised $300,000 to fight,” Ni said. “And they won.”

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