Facebook's proposal to create a new neighborhood in Menlo Park and add enough office space to cumulatively accommodate a workforce the size of Menlo Park's current total population – more than 33,000 – raised some questions from the Menlo Park Planning Commission during a Feb. 26 discussion.
The company has proposed to build a massive development project it's calling "Willow Village," which would include nine office buildings totaling 1.75 million square feet; 1,500 housing units, 225 of which would be designated as "below market rate"; 126,500 square feet of retail space for a grocery store, pharmacy and food and beverage services; a 200-room hotel; a culture/visitor center; a total of 5,319 parking spaces; and about 18 acres of open space, eight of which would be publicly accessible.
The proposed residential buildings would range in height from 61 to 72 feet and the office building would range in height from 74 to 112.5 feet.
The site is now home to a collection of commercial office, warehouse, and research and development structures totaling about 1 million square feet.
The 59-acre property is located on the south side of Willow Road about a quarter-mile west of Bayfront Expressway, bounded roughly by Mid Peninsula High School to the west, Willow Road to the north, the Dumbarton rail corridor to the east, and the UPS Center and Pacific Biosciences office (on O'Brien Drive and Adams Court) to the south.
Facebook proposes to elevate the site in accordance with the city's requirements to be above the flood plain and protected from sea level rise.
A presentation by Facebook showed future scenes of pedestrians and cyclists out shopping at a proposed grocery store, pharmacy and other food or beverage establishments, or enjoying publicly accessible park space on a site now clustered with unremarkable light industrial office buildings.
According to Facebook Vice President of Global Facilities and Real Estate John Tenanes, the company plans to be able to, within 10 years, have about 35,000 employees at its Menlo Park properties east of U.S. 101, which include the proposed offices and new office building associated with the Bohannon Companies' Menlo Gateway development.
Facebook has also committed to lease the entirety of the newly completed office building and two more planned office buildings, according to a Facebook spokesperson. Combined, the three buildings are expected to offer about 700,000 square feet of office space when complete.
Currently, about 15,000 Facebook employees work in Menlo Park, Tenanes said. (Menlo Park's population was 33,319 in 2016, according to population estimates in the American Community Survey.)
The company proposes to build the project in four phases, with occupancy planned to begin in 2021; occupancy of the remaining phased-in development would occur in 2022, 2023 and 2025.
The first phase would include about 70 percent of the total proposed square footage for the neighborhood retail street, including a grocery store, plus the first 500 of the total 1,500 housing units proposed and one-third of the office development.
The second and third phases would add the remaining two-thirds of the office space and housing units proposed. The fourth phase would include the installation of a proposed 200-room hotel and a cultural or visitors' center.
Initial concerns expressed by the planning commissioners were standard for most new developments: How will the project affect the city's jobs-housing balance and how will traffic be impacted?
When Facebook moved to Menlo Park in 2010 and 2011, Tenanes said, the company had about 2,500 employees. Today, the company has 75 locations worldwide, he said.
In public comments, Menlo Park resident Adina Levin noted that with the addition of an expected minimum of 7,000 jobs, and only 1,500 housing units, the proposed development is "still pushing the (jobs-housing) balance in a difficult direction." She encouraged the commission to focus on bike and pedestrian amenities, which would get people out of their cars and thus reduce traffic.
Several locals said they appreciated the public outreach that Facebook officials had done already but still had some concerns.
Sheryl Bims added that she believed the city should develop a plan to underground utilities and improve public landscaping and streetscapes in the neighborhood. She also urged the commission to start talking about education.
"As a community, Belle Haven is at a place where we are ready to separate from Ravenswood to become a new district or part of Menlo Park," she said.
George Yang said he hoped to see improved public transit options along the Dumbarton Bridge, including a transit loop connecting the South Bay.
Commissioner John Onken asked staff if a development ever reaches a point where the impacts are so severe that a project is actually halted. "As a community, we see EIRs (environmental impact reports) endlessly. ... We say, 'Oh no, well that's going to be lousy. There's not much we can do.'"
Ultimately, city planner Kyle Perata said, that decision is up to the City Council. If a study finds environmental impacts that are determined to be significant and unavoidable, those must be cleared by the council through what's called a "statement of overriding considerations."
According to Perata, city staff have begun preliminary steps on the environmental impact review process, but no timeline has been established yet. The city is likely to release a "notice of preparation" document that asks the public to weigh in on what potential environmental impacts should be evaluated in the city's study in the coming months, he said.
In addition, Facebook officials also plan to host their own public meetings in the coming weeks to provide information about the proposed development.
Scheduled meetings are:
● Saturday, March 3, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Menlo Park Senior Center, 110 Terminal Ave. in Menlo Park.
● Saturday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the East Palo Alto Senior Center at 560 Bell St. in East Palo Alto.
● Thursday, March 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center at 700 Alma St. in Menlo Park.