A debate over the aesthetics of a proposed eight-story parking garage dominated the Menlo Park Planning Commission's discussion Monday night of Facebook's revised plans for its development along Bayfront Expressway.
Ultimately, the commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Andrew Barnes opposed and Commissioners Drew Combs and Susan Goodhue recused (they work for or with Facebook), to recommend the City Council approve Facebook's proposed changes to the project.
However, that approval came with direction that the company modify the parking garage's design to reduce its monolithic appearance, adjust the exterior screening and look into changing the garage's footprint.
The commission found that the environmental review was in order and recommended the council accept at least $9 million of new funding from Facebook as part of its development agreement with the city. The money would be for "public safety." Previous discussions between the City Council and the Menlo Park Police Department indicate that this money would be paid over five years and would go toward starting a new police unit to cover everything east of U.S. Highway 101 except the Belle Haven neighborhood and some businesses west of the Dumbarton right-of-way line.
Facebook's revised plans deal with its development along Bayfront Expressway at the former TE Connectivity site. The City Council has approved "Building 22," as well as a 200-room hotel, but Facebook now wants to change some of the features of Building 22. The company received approval for this development in November 2016, and is currently building the first of two office buildings, called "Building 21."
Facebook is seeking approval for two major changes: to increase the height of its "Building 22" office building to as much as 97 feet to accommodate a large skylight and maintenance platform for it, and to build the eight-story parking garage.
The company has redesigned its layout for Building 22, proposing to build the same square footage (449,500 square feet), only across four stories, and to consolidate parking into an eight-story parking garage, with three bridges on different levels connecting the garage to the office building.
The company also plans to use about 100,000 square feet of the site for a recharging area for its fleet of electric shuttle buses and trams.
'More than lipstick'
When the Planning Commission reviewed the changes in May, several members criticized the proposed aesthetics, mainly using greenery along the walls of the building as screening.
But this time around, the commissioners said they didn't oppose the greenery walls after all. They recommended using different colors of concrete and screening types. The revised plan would install fast-growing poplar trees and planters on the higher levels for visual screening.
Commissioners directed staff to work with Facebook on a "conformance review" and to incorporate some of the feedback the commission had given. The plan is for the project to move forward as planned to the City Council on Nov. 7.
Fergus O'Shea, Facebook director of campus facilities, told the commission that his team had gone through about 70 iterations of the parking garage in the last few months.
Land-use lawyer Tim Tosta, on Facebook's behalf, asked the commission for clarification: "It seems like you're opening up changing, perhaps, location or the (garage's) overall design. Dealing with facades and landscaping is one time frame; location, overall design and massing is another. Are you going to the heart of the building's form, or are you asking for lipstick?"
Commissioner Henry Riggs gave the harsh answer: "It's going to take more than lipstick."