Menlo Park, Calif. - A majority of downtown property owners and numerous business owners today announced the formation of the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance (Alliance), which aims to preserve the small-town atmosphere and charm of our downtown with easy, convenient access to stores for shoppers. The Alliance was formed in response to the Draft Specific Plan for Downtown Menlo Park, which was released to the public in early April 2010. The Plan calls for the elimination of nearly half of all surface parking spaces, including converting several parking plazas to other uses. Two 5-level (48-feet high) parking garages would be built to compensate for the lost surface parking.
" Downtown Menlo Park is thriving even in these difficult times with one of the lowest vacancy rates in the area," said Mark Flegel, co-founder of the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance and long-time downtown business and property owner. "Removing surface parking in accordance with the Specific Plan would hurt downtown businesses by making it more difficult for residents to access local stores. Convenient parking and easy access are key elements of downtown Menlo Park's success."
Eight downtown parking plazas were created through assessment districts paid for by downtown property owners over several decades. Property owners are concerned that the City's plan to lease or sell these plazas will jeopardize customer access to their buildings. The Alliance proposes an alternative vision that would allow some increased density while maintaining the majority of downtown surface parking.
"We support efforts to beautify the downtown and to address the blight along El Camino," noted Alliance co-founder and property owner Nancy Couperus. "But eliminating 55% of the plaza parking and 105 street parking spaces goes too far. The Specific Plan would make it harder for people to park and would slow circulation. And the permanent covered market concept is likely to threaten the success of our community-oriented Sunday Farmers' Market."
Specifically, the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance supports:
- The El Camino portion of the Draft Specific Plan that allows for mixed-use development (i.e., residential) and higher density;
- Preserving the surface parking plazas that provide easy, convenient parking for downtown Menlo Park shoppers, as well as the diagonal parking spaces along Santa Cruz Avenue;
- Constructing a modest parking structure on the Oak Grove Plaza - Plaza 2 - between Oak Grove Avenue, Chestnut, and Crane Streets;
- Taking an incremental approach to building split-level parking structures (as found in Los Gatos) of no more than two levels with a six-foot maximum elevation above the surface;
- Relocating permit parkers to future parking structures, thereby creating additional parking for downtown shoppers at front and rear entrances;
- Taller buildings downtown if these buildings provide dedicated on-site parking (an example is Menlo Center);
- Widening of downtown sidewalks for any property owner willing to lose street parking to accommodate them, and by requiring smaller building footprints or increased set-backs as a condition of increased building height limits;
- Maintaining the median trees on Santa Cruz Avenue;
- Landscaping and lighting improvements throughout the downtown; and
- Any incentives presented by the City of Menlo Park to encourage building owners to upgrade the front and back of buildings.
The City Council is expected to take final action on the Specific Plan in late fall 2010. The Menlo Park Downtown Alliance has reached out to the City Council repeatedly in an effort to address its concerns, and will continue to do so until a final plan is in place. The Alliance has a number of activities planned to educate fellow Menlo Park residents about the Specific Plan and how it will permanently change the character of the downtown. The group will be at the Farmers' Market to educate patrons about the proposed changes and will organize a petition and letter-writing campaign to the City Council.
For more information about the Menlo Park Downtown Alliance and to learn more about the plans proposed by the City, see www.preservempdowntown.org.