Menlo Park Planning Commission has now given Facebook its approval to proceed with the redevelopment of a 58-acre site previously occupied by TE Connectivity before it goes to the city council for a final approval. Since the acquisition of the site in September 2014, the social media juggernaut has meticulously planned and executed its vision for the new campus, which when completed will feature approximately 962,400 square feet of office use, including ancillary employee amenities, and a 200-room hotel of approximately 174,800 square feet. The commission approved the project unanimously in a 5-0 vote with two planners, Susan Goodhue and Vice Chair Drew Combs, recusing themselves.
“I’m really pleased to be here tonight to present our campus expansion project. We’re very proud of this project, and we’re excited to be here,” said Fergus O’Shea, director of campus facilities at Facebook, who led the development team in the discussion and outlined the final project plans to the planning commission.[contextly_sidebar id=”tOWBqy5M3I0M62yhw6vZYoTcxShKERIN”]The meeting on Monday evening was a follow up to a series of meetings in June and July of 2016. Earlier in the summer, the public was invited to review and provide feedback on the drafts of the environmental impact report and fiscal impact analysis for the Facebook campus expansion project. In July, the city released the agreement terms for the development with focus on the community benefits associated with the project as well as aspects addressing long-term solutions to the housing and congestion issues facing the area.
“Part of what this project is doing is replacing an industrial site that had significant contamination and was very much a series of industrial buildings with new office space for Facebook and significant landscaping and improvement to the site,” said Craig Webb of Gehry Partners, the architect on the project. “[The project] is replacing industrial buildings that were somewhat unsightly and also produced a lot of noise and pollution into the area.”
The project has been deemed to comply with the Menlo Park General Plan guidelines and the General Industrial zoning requirements, though it requires variances for building height and the addition of a limited-service hotel. The transformation of this formerly industrial site is to bring numerous economic, structural and environmental benefits to the community. Public benefit payments and taxes associated with the development will be well over $2 million yearly, while about $3.8 million will go towards funding for transportation and infrastructure benefits including contributions to the Dumbarton Corridor Study, an initiative of SamTrans to improve the flow of traffic in Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
The project is also planned to bring housing benefits, most notably the goal of generating $6.3 million dollars toward the creation of affordable housing. Additionally, $350,000 will pay for the Housing Inventory and Local Supply Study, which will then be used to implement a strategy to best utilize the Housing Innovation Fund to which the project will contribute $1.5 million. Facebook will also be undertaking a residential project at the Prologis Site to supply 1,500 units of housing including workforce units and 15 percent below market rate units. In addition, the company is allotting $2.15 million for the Workforce Housing Program to reduce rents in the Belle Haven neighborhood.
“I think it’s an exciting agreement as it relates to affordable housing,” said Matt Franklin, executive director, Mid Pen Housing following the July agreement announcement. “Facebook has been very engaged with the community around this issue. The agreement is a robust mix in terms of actions and strategies towards finding solutions to affordable housing.”
The majority of the comments by the planning commission showed a strong affinity toward the proposed development. “I have no particular affinity for Fecebook,” said commissioner Andrew Barnes. “My interest is in the highest and best use of this particular area, and it not only accomplishes that, it takes a very special entity to be able to execute on a project like this, to be able to remediate the sites, to build what they’re going to build.”
Commissioner Henry Riggs, however softened the enthusiasm and found the overview overwhelming. “I don’t have a problem approving a major project in an area where transportation is a very serious problem,” he said. “And while Redwood City has done an awful lot of building and Palo Alto has an awful lot of building, and no parking required, Menlo Park really can’t add to that. We’re right in the middle. Someone has to stop and say ‘you can’t keep adding residents by the tens of thousands, you can’t add employees by the tens of thousands…and not address infrastructure.’”
Riggs cited the upcoming General Plan discussions, which the city is planning to kick off in a few weeks, and stated that he will have difficulty with adding development in Menlo Park without commitment from holders of the rights of way to improve the city’s infrastructure. “I just want to be clear that in my unqualified support for Facebook tonight, it does not imply support in the future for this corridor,” he concluded.
The commission’s chair, Katherine Strehl, echoed those concerns, as well, and called the planning commission to vote, which approved the development.