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Menlo Park merchants, city leaders work to find common ground over parking

By Liu (Laura) He | 26 Oct 2011

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Pedestrians cross Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park. The city is considering a plan to remove all diagonal parking spaces from the street. (Photo: Liu He)

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A preliminary plan designed to attract more residents, tourists and businesses to Menlo Park’s downtown calls for eliminating 764 surface parking spaces, including all the diagonal spaces on Santa Cruz Avenue.

To make up for the lost street and plaza parking, the proposal envisions multi-story garages being built on Oak Grove Avenue.

City officials originally favored as many as two garages, with spaces for 1,300 vehicles, but are discussing alternatives after downtown merchants objected to the size of the structures. “There’s a lot to discuss,” Mayor Richard Cline said at a City Council meeting on Oct. 4.

The El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, which the council expects to consider in final form this winter, would also widen sidewalks on Santa Cruz Avenue and create a plaza where people could gather for entertainment and social events. Part of Chestnut Street would be closed to cars and transformed into a “pedestrian paseo,” according to the plan.

A possible outcome of widening the sidewalks is that Santa Cruz Avenue would lose diagonal parking and only have parallel parking spaces.

City Manager Glen Rojas said in an interview that the goal is to make the downtown more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly.

A number of downtown business owners, however, are upset about the potential loss of street and plaza parking.

“Retail relies heavily on close (and) convenient parking,” said Nancy Couperus, a downtown property owner who has been critical of the draft plan since it was made public in April.

Couperus, who founded a popular Sunday farmers market in the city 18 years ago, has joined with other merchants to form the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance to oppose the plan. She said the group has circulated a petition and collected signatures from 78 business owners and 37 property owners.

“We support efforts to beautify the downtown and to address the blight along El Camino,” Couperus said. “But eliminating 55 percent of the plaza parking and 105 street parking spaces goes too far.”

Under the draft plan, 764 of the current 1,595 surface parking spaces in downtown would be removed. City officials say the proposed garages would more than satisfy the merchants’ desire for convenient parking.

All told, according to the city, the plan is projected to add approximately 330,000 square feet of retail and commercial development, 680 residential units and 380 hotel rooms to the downtown area, attracting an estimated 1,357 new jobs and 1,537 residents.

The plan calls for building one conference hotel in the El Camino Real corridor by 2015 and a smaller boutique hotel downtown over the next 20 to 30 years. In addition, the plan anticipates demand for more medical offices.

Bob McIntire, a Menlo Park resident for 35 years, told the council on Oct. 4 that he supports the effort to increase office density.

“For those vacant properties, it’s the time to turn them into productive assets,” he said. “The project can be economical and can work for both landlords and tenants.”

The city has allocated about $970,000 for the planning process, including for consultant services and public communication, according to the city manager’s office. The overall project costs will be determined during the next phase of planning.

City officials say it is unlikely that the General Fund would be a significant source of money for infrastructure projects such as the proposed garages. Potential sources may include parking fees, grants, developer contributions and sale or lease of publicly owned properties, according to Rojas.

 

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