Facebook app owner’s Menlo Park village moves grocery to first phase

MENLO PARK — The owner of the Facebook app has made a new grocery store an early-stage priority in the development of a huge Menlo Park village that the tech titan is proposing.

A grocery store, town square, elevated park and retail will now occur in the first phase of construction — and not in the third phase as previously proposed — under the latest plans for Willow Village in Menlo Park proposed by Meta Platforms, whose apps include Facebook .

The revamped approach for Willow Village also firms up that the number of homes — including affordable residences — will be increased and the amount of office space and Meta Platforms on-site employees will be reduced compared with prior proposals for the new neighborhood.

The village’s new version has emerged after a wide-ranging community outreach undertaken by Meta Platforms. The neighborhood would sprout at and near 1350 Willow Road in Menlo Park.

Willow Village, a mixed-use neighborhood of offices, homes, shops, restaurants and a grocery store in Menlo Park, site plan. (Willow Village)

“This plan represents more than four years of work with our neighbors and city leaders to fulfill our mutual vision for a place that is deeply connected with the surrounding community and substantiallys to our shared future,” said John Tenanes, Meta’s vice president of real estate.

Meta is attempting to replace a half-century-old industrial and research park with a new Menlo Park neighborhood of homes, offices, a grocery market, parks, and open spaces.

The development could rise near Meta Platform’s headquarters on Hacker Way.

The public will soon be able to review a draft environmental impact report for Willow Village. Meta and the project’s lead developer, Signature Development, are steering the proposal through the city review process.

The office space being planned for the new neighborhood now totals 1.25 million square feet, compared with the prior version that proposed 1.75 million square feet. That’s a decrease of 29% in the square footage for the office space.

The amount of housing eyed for the project now totals about 1,730 units, up from roughly 1,500 units. That’s an increase of about 15% in the number of residences.

The number of affordable housing units will now top 300 homes, including 120 senior affordable units. Prior versions had proposed 225 affordable units.

The new version of the office development would add 3,450 employees to the site for a new total of 6,950 workers. Previous versions of the plan would have located 9,500 Meta workers there. That’s a 27% decrease in the number of on-site Meta workers once the village is complete.

“We need to balance jobs and housing in Menlo Park” was one of the bullet points that emerged from the Meta outreach to the community.

About 3,500 Meta employees work on the existing Willow campus at present.

“We’ve been told live, work, play for many, many years, some people for decades,” said Sheryl Bims, a Belle Haven resident. “It looks like finally there is a project that is being delivered that will really provide the right mix of things and provide true access to people in the community.”

The neighborhood grocery store would be built at the corner of Willow Road and a new road called Main Street, which extends from the existing Hamilton Avenue, a site plan provided by Meta and Signature Development shows.

The grocery store would total about 37,000 square feet, according to Meta.

“There will be a neighborhood grocery store for which the community has been clamoring for some time,” Mike Ghilmetti, president of Signature Development, said in a January 2021 interview with this news organization.

That approach matches one of the conclusions that arose from community feedback that Meta gathered in its outreach efforts.

“This community needs a grocery store and we need it now,” was one of the Meta takeaways from the feedback.

The project will add other amenities to the area, including the elevated park. The park is expected to be akin to The High Line, a New York City elevated park that was developed atop an abandoned freight line above the streets of Manhattan’s west side.

The curving park would offer views of the new village to the south, nearby existing neighborhoods to the west such as Belle Haven, the wetlands to the north, and San Francisco Bay to the east, according to Meta Platforms and Signature Development.

The elevated park will include walking and biking trails, as well as landscaping that will be 50 feet to 80 feet wide. Children’s play areas, shading canopies, and seating will also be included.

To connect Willow Village to nearby residential areas such as the Belle Haven district, the elevated park will arch over Willow Road, allowing for direct access from adjacent neighborhoods.

Menlo Park city officials are slated to make a final decision on the proposal by the end of this year.

“Our neighborhood is finally getting a grocery store, and a bank, restaurants, and cafes, a park,” said Rachel Bickerstaff, a Belle Haven resident. “It’s beautifying the neighborhood. We need more happiness after the pandemic.”

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