Plans for 16 new town homes and nearly 27,00o square feet of commercial space on El Camino Real are on track after a decisive gave projects a green light at Tuesday night's meeting.

First approved in 2006, plans for the two-story townhomes project at 1460 El Camino Real have hit some slow-downs along the way, including a stagnant economy and ground water contaminants at a high enough level to mandate a county and state-monitored clean-up process, applicant John Beltramo told the council Tuesday night.

Menlo Park's requirement that three of the 16 units be slated at below-market-rate (BMR) selling prices only compounded the situation, Beltramo told the council. He was clearly frustrated with the project's limbo between the city, county and state.

"We were shocked to find out how much BMR units sell for," Beltramo told the council in a short presentation. 

Housing Commissioner Anne Moser spoke out against the project's approval. 

"I wanted you to know that I am very sorry I voted for this project," she said. "Menlo Park needs BMR units really badly."

Under the council's approval, the city will collect $127,500 based on a theoretical sale price of $850,000 per home. Beltramo is agreeing to pay the rate for five units, based on another equation that assumes the commercial space would be equal to 40 condominiums units. 

The council also approved a two-year extension to the building permit--the second one in four years. Beltramo also told the council that San Mateo County's environmental review of the property, bounded by 1452 and 1460 El Camino Real and 1457 and 1473 San Antonio Street, was moving so slowly that he took his case to the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

Before he can break ground, both entities must sign off on the cleanup, he told the council. Tuesday's meeting packet did not include correspondence from the state agency, but Beltramo said he has a conference call with regulators scheduled for Thursday.

With the 4-0 approval — Council Member Andy Cohen is prohibited from voting because of his home's proximity to the project — the council also directed city staff to schedule a study session to review the city's below-market-rate ordinance. Council Members said the current ordinance is not crafted well to deal with lower density housing such as this project.

"How can we make the BMR program more effective?" Council Member Peter Ohtaki asked. "I don't have that answer tonight."

Don’t miss updates from Patch!