Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
The San Mateo Fifth Avenue parking lot where the Essex apartment complex is being proposed.
An eight-story residential building just proposed for downtown San Mateo has some concerned about parking and traffic while city officials are seeking assurance it will provide a substantial public benefit.
The proposed Essex at Central Park would cover the current surface parking lot at the corner of East Fifth Avenue and South San Mateo Drive with a multi-use eight-story building, up to 75 feet tall with 117 rental units, directly across from the park. The rental cost of the one- and two-bedroom apartments will probably range between $2,000 to $3,000 per month depending on the market, according to a city staff report.
The developer Essex Property Trust submitted a pre-application last October that will be heard by the Parks and Recreation Commission Wednesday and by the Planning Commission Feb. 25.
Essex has proposed providing 260 parking spaces spread between one level of underground, ground level and above-ground parking, and 3,500 square feet of retail space, according to the report.
The public has been encouraged to provide input, a neighborhood meeting was held and the proposal is being reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Commission due to its proximity to Central Park, said Julia Klein, associate planner for the city. Because this is such a substantial project, the pre-application will be extensively reviewed before a final application is submitted, Klein said.
About 40 people presented concerns and questions at a neighborhood meeting Jan. 23, according to the report.
“General concerns, that were heard at the neighborhood meeting, were parking, traffic circulation, none of those are a surprise given that this is an urban development, and certainly the question of design,” Klein said.
Parking in the area has become increasingly difficult and the city is currently working on finalizing its Downtown San Mateo Parking Management Plan to address it.
“One thing that’s pretty sensitive right now, is there’s really a shortage of parking downtown now,” Councilman Jack Matthews said.
Essex stated it would allot 95 public stalls and rebuild the ramp to the rooftop parking lot, according to the report.
Essex will also need to abide by Measure P, the city’s height limitations and required affordable housing component of 10 percent below-market rate units per new development. Measure P is an extension of Measure H, which was passed decades ago partly in response to a proposal for 10-story office buildings on the same set of blocks in downtown San Mateo.
“The height limits in the city were reduced because the community was concerned that the heights would be excessive and too much of an impact in downtown. So it does have a long history of being kind of a controversial site,” Matthews said.
Most developments are limited to 55 feet in height and 75 feet if it’s in an appropriate area and provides a public benefit or amenity. As it’s proposing a very large project, Essex’s biggest challenge will be what they can propose and afford to provide as a public benefit, Matthews said.
The city is setting its sights on improving its beloved park by working on the Central Park Master Plan. Having the developer contribute to the finances, aesthetics and accessibility of the park could make it an asset, Matthews said.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will review the proposal Wednesday to make sure it’s a suitable design for its proximity to Central Park, Klein said.
“That’s one of the questions that we’re asking in terms of how we access Central Park from the downtown area,” Klein said. “If you look at the connection, it’s basically San Mateo Drive and a mid-block pedestrian corridor. How is the project, given the way it’s designed and the landscape being proposed and the mid-block crossing being proposed, how is all of that going to improve or enhance the connection to Central Park?”
Essex’s proposal designates 10 percent of its units at below-market rates, according to the report. That’s the minimum under Measure P requirements and setting aside a higher percentage of units as affordable could help establish a public benefit, Matthews said.
Providing housing in the area will be beneficial to the city and to businesses by getting people to walk and frequent the park, said Jessica Evans, executive director of the Downtown San Mateo Association.
“More housing downtown is always a great thing,” Evans said.
Having mixed-use residential facilities in the area will encourage people to patronize Central Park and is consistent with the county’s transit-oriented development goals, said Mark Moulton, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.
“What we’re really looking for is transit-oriented high-density development. So it certainly fits the pattern that we’re looking for,” Moulton said.
There is still a lot to be worked out. Essex will have to negotiate for the purchase of the property, appear before the Parks and Recreation and the Planning commissions, finalize its application, go through numerous traffic and environmental studies all before coming to a vote by the City Council.
Mayor Robert Ross said it could add some economic vitality to downtown but it will take some collaboration.
“I think if it’s done correctly it could complement the downtown. We’re looking to improve the economic stability of downtown and it has a potential add to that,” Ross said. “With any project, there’s always challenges and the real effort is getting citizens and city staff and the council and working collaboratively with the developer to get the best project we can.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission meeting is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5 at City Hall, Conference Room C, 330 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106