Increased funding for park maintenance, enhanced landscaping and thorough reviews on the impacts a 75-foot building would have on its neighboring Central Park were the chief concerns of the San Mateo Parks and Recreation Commission as they discussed the proposed Essex development last night.
Essex Property and Trust submitted a pre-application to build an eight-story, 117 one- and two-bedroom complex with 260 above, below and ground level parking spaces on the approximate 1.2 acres currently used as a publicly accessible parking lot on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and South San Mateo Drive.
“This is preliminary, we recognize there’s a lot of embellishments and further clarity that needs to be done,” said John Eudy, executive vice president of development for Essex. “We put in a lot of thought and tried to come up with different options ...we’re going to be enhancing landscape and try and connect it to the park and spend the money trying to enhance the walkway from Fourth to Fifth. … We’re going to make sure we try to hit every mark so we can clarify the impact will be minimized.”
Unlike typical development proposals, the commission reviewed Essex’s pre-application due to its proximity to Central Park, said city architect Dennis Frank. Studies about the wind, glare and shadow impacts a large building might have on the park will need to be done before any action is taken, Frank said.
Commissioner Clifford Robins said lining the base of the building with more retail space would encourage people to come shop, eat and then frequent the park. The city is developing its Central Park Master Plan and its important Essex doesn’t detract from its goal to tie the park to downtown, Robins said.
“I would like the developer to think as to how they can play into that. Anything you can do to enhance the people flow and not impede it,” Robins said.
Resident James Steinrock frequents Central Park and doesn’t want a 75-foot building to make it feel enclosed.
“[Central] park is the place my wife and I grew up and it’s ringed now pretty much by parking lots and I don’t want it to feel like it’s boxed,” Steinrock said.
The city wants to ensure the building provides access from the park to downtown and has suitable landscaping to make it a more natural connection, Frank said.
The building will have numerous ground level planters as well as story level cascading plants to try and tie the building’s aesthetics to those of the park, said Russ Naylor, Essex’s primary design architect for the project. It will bulb out the sidewalk from it’s current eight feet to more than 16 feet and create a plaza area with retail and café tables on the corner to be more inviting, Naylor said.
Essex is proposing “El Paseo,” a walkthrough within the building connecting Fourth and Fifth avenues that will be well maintained with plants and inviting to the public, Naylor said.
Because of the proposed height of the building, it needs to follow Measure P requirements and provide a public benefit or amenity to be considered suitable.
Resident Kara Cox said she doesn’t think El Paseo is much of an increased benefit because it’s a public right-of-way that Essex would already need to maintain.
“I’m very supportive of development when it’s done in the right way because I know San Mateo needs housing. But this certainly doesn’t benefit the public or the park to any degree more than is already existing,” Cox said.
It’s in the early stage of the application process so city and developers haven’t defined what type or to what extent Essex will have to provide a public benefit.
But the commissioners will indicate they anticipate needed increased finances to support new Essex park goers, Robbins said.
“I think the good news is there will be more people using central park,” Commissioner Stan Watkins said. “The bad news is if the department doesn’t have sufficient funds to keep it going. There needs to be sufficient funds.”
The City Council will ultimately determine what would be considered a suitable public benefit, said Julia Klein, associate planner for the city.
The Planning Commission will hear the Essex at Central Park pre-application 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at City Hall, 330 W. 20th Avenue. For more information about the project visit www.cityofsanmateo.org.
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