Facebook's 'Company Town' Looks a Bit Like Smart Growth

Pros and cons of the planned mixed-use housing development in Menlo Park.

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Facebook/Shutterstock

Bay Area tech companies are famous for providing their employees all kinds of perks, from free cereal to ball pits. Facebook, though, may be the first to provide housing (or as close as it can get to it). The company recently partnered with St. Anton Partners to fund a $120 million, 10-acre housing development down the street from its headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

The planned complex, designed by architecture firm KTGY Group, is the first major housing development in Menlo Park in 20 years, and is expected to open in 2016. According to Deanna Chow, a senior planner in Menlo Park’s planning department, the city is largely occupied by single-family homes. This 394-unit residential community will be the first mixed-use development of its scale in the city.  

The bottom image zooms in at the red pin on the top image -- the new Anton Menlo development is less than 2 miles from Facebook's campus.    

A few years ago, Google proposed to rezone its headquarters in Mountain View for residential development, but was shot down by the City Council there. In Facebook's case, the company got a bit lucky that a developer "laser-focused on building housing next to employers" decided to invest in a site just minutes from the social media company’s front doors.

Aerial rendering of the proposed Anton Menlo apartment complex, expected to open in 2016.  (Courtesy of KTGY Group)

While Facebook’s investment in the complex only extends to subsidizing 15 low-income units, Anton Menlo could very well become a "Facebook Town." Besides its proximity to Facebook’s campus, the designers also kept the company's employees very much in mind. A series of focus groups and electronic surveys gauging employees’ needs and desires translated into amenities like a "grab & go" convenience store, sports pub, doggy daycare, bicycle repair shop, and an "iCafe" filled with community WiFi zones, printers, and office supplies. Once construction begins, St. Anton will market the apartments to Facebook employees first before opening up to the general public. The developer is also working to establish a leasing office on Facebook’s campus.

Beyond concerns about Facebook employees becoming slaves to work or the beginnings of a community made up entirely of "brogrammers," the project is actually a much-needed step in addressing Menlo Park’s housing strain. According to a housing fact sheet from the city, Menlo Park has a "jobs/housing inbalance," with 41,320 workers but only 13,129 housing units.

Just last year, the city settled a lawsuit with non-profit groups who complained about inadequate housing and agreed to create nearly 2,000 homes. More than half of those new homes are supposed to be set aside for very-low to moderate-income families, reasonable given the city’s household income distribution: 40 percent with above-moderate income and a combined 41 percent with low, very-low, or extremely-low income. But if upcoming developments in a city tight on land continues to target tech employees — in Anton Menlo’s case, a ratio of 341 luxury units to 53 low-income units — lower-income families could continue to be driven out of the city.

On the plus side, housing employees close to work can help reduce traffic and gridlock. In fact, the Anton Menlo project aims to make several specific transit improvements. The Facebook corporate shuttle will be adding a stop at Anton Menlo. On a mission to get people home as soon as possible, the developer is working with the city to put in a bike path that runs directly from the Facebook campus to the new complex. Also in the works are separated sidewalks, crosswalks that light up to caution cars, and an underground tunnel linking Facebook’s campus to the apartments.

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