Plans to turn an 8.4-acre stretch of vacant car lots along El Camino Real in Menlo Park into a vibrant mix of housing, offices and retail with a strong “village character” are moving forward.

Known as Middle Plaza, the mixed-use project proposed by Stanford is planned for construction at 500 El Camino Real, near Middle Avenue. Stanford recently submitted revised project plans to the City of Menlo Park. A community open house will be held Thursday, March 16, to provide local residents with the latest information on the project.

“Community engagement and feedback has been a cornerstone of the project’s evolution,” said Steve Elliott, managing director for development in Land, Buildings and Real Estate at Stanford.

“This project is envisioned as part of a future gateway into Menlo Park, and we have worked closely with the community and the city to ensure it has the right mix of features,” he said. “Our current plan includes more housing, fewer offices and an enhanced public space relative to earlier versions. The project size and design have also been refined to better reflect the community vision for this site.”

Consisting of five buildings and anchored by a vibrant public space called Middle Plaza, the project also includes a pedestrian and bicycle rail crossing to be built in the future by the city at Middle Avenue and the Caltrain tracks.

Two residential buildings will contain 215 rental housing units – 103 one-bedroom units and 112 two-bedroom units. Three commercial buildings will contain approximately 144,000 square feet of office space, significantly less than the amount in the project’s original design, along with 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. All of the medical office space proposed earlier has been eliminated. Most of the project’s parking will be located underground.

A key feature of the project will be an enlarged Middle Plaza area with public access, featuring a variety of programs, activities, restaurants and retail options for residents, workers and visitors. The Middle Plaza area will also serve as a gathering spot and entrance to the future nearby rail crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists, which will improve safety and add a much-needed connection between east and west neighborhoods on either side of the Caltrain tracks.

“Local residents have a deep investment in how this site is used by future generations. They made clear they wanted more housing and an expanded, community-oriented plaza that serves as a vibrant and active public gathering space,” Elliott said. “We believe the refined plan takes these community desires into full account, resulting in an improved plan.”

For the Middle Plaza project, Stanford will implement bike-share and car-share programs, install on-site showers and lockers, use an online portal to help people coordinate carpooling, give preferential parking to car and van pools, offer a guaranteed ride home for employees who do not drive themselves to work, install do-it yourself bike repair stands and build bike parking spots.

Residents can learn about changes to the project and share their views on the submitted plan at a Stanford-sponsored community open house on Thursday, March 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Little House, 800 Middle Ave. (at Nealon Park), in Menlo Park. Stanford staff will be on hand to describe the recent changes in the project and answer questions on a drop-in basis. Light snacks will be provided.

The City of Menlo Park released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project on Feb. 28. Comments can also be made on the draft report at the Menlo Park Planning Commission public hearing scheduled for Monday, March 27, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center. The planned 45-day public review/comment period ends April 13, 2017.

The Middle Plaza project is in full compliance with the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, which was approved by the city in 2012 as a road map for Menlo Park development. The Specific Plan was later reaffirmed by voters in November 2014.