Stanford's proposed 429,739 square-foot development on an 8.4-acre site along El Camino Real in Menlo Park, stretching from the Stanford Park Hotel to Big 5 Sporting Goods, passed a penultimate hurdle when the Menlo Park Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend approval of a package of agreements and permits needed to move forward.
The project is expected to be brought to the City Council in late September.
The approvals were split into five parts, and the commissioners voted 6-0 in favor of the first four: approving the findings of the final environmental impact report and accepting the proposed mitigations; approving the architecture plans, allowing 18 heritage trees to be removed and one to be transplanted, and accepting a "below market rate" agreement in which Stanford commits to renting 10 one-bedroom apartments to low-income tenants.
The commission also recommended the City Council give teachers in the Menlo Park City School District or child care providers preference in renting the 10 units.
(Commissioner John Onken was recused because his spouse works for Stanford.)
The commission then voted 5-1, with Commissioner Andrew Barnes opposed, to recommend that the terms of a proposed development agreement for the project be approved by the City Council.
In the development agreement, Stanford has committed to pay half the cost, up to $5 million, of a new bike and pedestrian bridge over or tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.
The development agreement also stipulates to pay $1 million over 10 years to the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation, which raises funds for Encinal, Oak Knoll and Laurel elementary schools and Hillview Middle School.
A City Council subcommittee has recommended that Stanford increase its contribution to the foundation to $1.5 million over 15 years. Barnes said he didn't support it because he said he wasn't given enough data to make an informed decision.
Stanford has proposed to build 215 one- and two-bedroom apartments (276,613 square feet), 10,286 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and 142,840 square feet of office space. A large public plaza near Middle Avenue is also proposed. The project will have about 930 parking spots, most of which will be in underground parking garages, with some surface parking.
The two residential and three office buildings proposed are expected to bring 512 residents and 500 employees to the site. These new people and visitors are expected to add about 2,658 daily vehicle trips.
Impact on schools
Since Stanford plans to use the apartments for staff and faculty housing, the university will not be required to pay property taxes on those units.
Erik Burmeister, superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District, said in a public comment that he and the district are concerned that the district will incur major costs to educate the children who might live in those apartments, since the district is funded with property taxes and does not receive a designated per-student funding allocation from the state.
Estimates varied on how many students the new development might bring to the district. Burmeister cited an estimated 39 new students from the development, which, according to him, could cost the district as much as $660,000 a year, given expected 2019 costs of $17,000 per student.
Jean McCown, told the commissioners that ultimately, Stanford is designated as a tax-exempt academic institution by the state of California, and the university does not plan to distribute funds "as though we are not tax exempt," she said. "That's not a place we can go. We are making a major investment in this property and community in a new way that hasn't been the case for a while."
Each year, she said, the apartments will be assessed to see if property taxes are required. If the university ends up leasing apartments to non-Stanford affiliated tenants, then property taxes will be paid for those apartments. In addition, Stanford plans to lease the three proposed commercial and office buildings to outside tenants and will be required to pay property taxes on those.
City Attorney Bill McClure said Stanford already leases about 180 apartments in the city of Menlo Park to house its students, faculty and staff, and gets a property tax exemption on those. Some of those residents might move into the Middle Plaza apartments and not add to lost property tax revenues for local schools.
The terms of the development agreement, including the amount of funding Stanford has committed to local schools, will be discussed at the Menlo Park City Council's meeting tonight.
The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.