Stanford Aims to Revitalize Downtown Menlo Park with Middle Plaza Development

By Jacob Bourne

The land parcels between 300 and 550 El Camino Real in Menlo Park have been a part of Stanford University’s history since 1885. Beginning in the 1960s the lots were developed for auto dealerships and though they’ve sat vacant for nearly a decade, the property leases didn’t expire until 2013. With the City’s adoption of the El Camino Real-Downtown Specific Plan in 2012, the University has sought redevelopment of the land in a way that aligns with the overall vision for the area.

“It’s been vacant a long time. Everyone is really looking forward to creating something new to benefit Stanford and the community,” said Steve Elliott, managing director of development for Stanford’s Real Estate Department.

The nearly eight and half acre site’s zoning allows for the proposed mixed-use development involving three office buildings, three housing complexes and retail. A percentage of the 215 apartment units will be designated as affordable housing. Over 300,000 square feet of the total 459,013 square foot development will be one to two bedroom rental units and associated living spaces. The 144,000 square feet of office space will mostly be on the eastern portion of the lot, though 10,000 square feet of retail will be incorporated into a smaller office building on the western end.

To benefit the community a significant amount of open space is incorporated into the plans, most notably a public plaza right next to retail spaces where local residents can shop, enjoy the outdoors, music and events. Promoting healthy living and sustainability is a major priority of the project, which will feature LEED Silver certification, wide sidewalks and extensive landscaping. Spacious balconies, ample windows, scaling back of building masses and high design articulation promote good livability and architectural interest. Underground parking will serve both residential and commercial uses.

“We look at where we can revitalize and create infill at locations that are obsolete,” Elliott explained. “There’s been no significant new housing supply added for a long, long time. The most sustainable thing we can do is put housing near jobs and transit.”

The proposed development is in between the Menlo Park and Palo Alto Caltrain Stations as well as a VTA Station, making the location accessible for both shoppers and commuters. A Stanford University shuttle service also runs past the site. This not only promises a reduction in traffic congestion but creates a natural link to the active commercial stretch along Sand Hill Road.

Middle Plaza represents a significant investment for the University with its growing population. As new areas of research are created in the context of an expanding knowledge industry, Stanford has been adding both on and off campus housing, such as the 2,400 units of graduate student residences earlier this year. Though the residential offerings at 500 El Camino Real won’t be specifically designated for faculty, Elliott anticipates that a number of them will be interested in seeking accommodations there.

Because the project is situated between a major arterial road and Caltrain tracks, those involved in the environmental review process will be looking at ways to mitigate acoustic and vibration impacts. In a joint effort to connect the retail plaza area with Burgess Park beyond the Caltrain tracks, Stanford will implement a publicly accessible break in the frontage on Middle Avenue so that the City can create a grade-separated pedestrian-bike crossing in the future.

The University is partnering with DES Architects, TGP Inc. and Dahlin Group to complete the project within three years granted that the formal application is approved in spring 2017. Stanford alumnus, John Arrillaga, has also been very involved in the project.

According to Jean Lin, Menlo Park senior planner, the notice of preparation for the project’s review period has recently ended, and they’re currently in the process of preparing a draft environmental review.

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