Advocates trying to reopen the old Ice Center in San Mateo plan on showing up in full force at a Planning Commission study session tonight to beg the city to represent them as they work against the Bridgepointe Shopping Center owner’s attempt to demolish the rink to allow for more retail space.
Bridgepointe’s owner, SPI Holdings, filed a second pre-application to the city’s Planning Division to amend the site’s Master Plan in March. It came nearly a year after it withdrew its first request to demolish the rink after it closed in June 2013.
Per the Master Plan that was adopted in 1998, SPI cannot demolish the rink unless it provides an alternative recreational use approved by the City Council. However, the city cannot force SPI to reopen the rink, which means it could opt to just keep it vacant, according to the city’s website.
But those who used to frequent the rink say the city needs to represent the community’s best interests.
“We’re losing a recreational amenity that’s probably worth at least $10 million … outside of the land,” said Julie McAuliffe, a San Mateo resident who said her four children skated at the rink. “We want the city to evaluate what it’s losing financially because the developer is going to gain millions and millions of dollars. So it’s a huge private gain for a huge public loss.”
Hundreds of people attended the community meeting SPI held April 24 and no one spoke in support of deferring a recreational use elsewhere, said Dina Artzt, whose son used to skate at the rink.
SPI did not return a request for comment. However, Peter Meier, who represented SPI at the community meeting, previously said SPI determined the space would be better served as retail to compete with the neighboring Stanford and Hillsdale shopping centers.
Artzt and McAuliffe said the rink was well used by skaters of all ages. Families would frequent the restaurants and shops after games or while their kids were practicing, they added.
Artzt said the city should have gotten involved when SPI refused to renew the previous ice rink operator’s lease last year.
“It looks to us that SPI is calling the shots,” Artzt said. “No one has stepped up to say ‘that’s not OK. We need you to keep this operating until there’s a change.’ … It was the intent of SPI to demolish the building as soon as the tenants were out.”
Mayor Robert Ross said he hears the community’s frustration but the council needs to adhere to the process and wait until all input is gathered.
“We’re always unable to make decisions until we’ve got all the data from all the parties involved. But as far as the ice rink, there’s some critical questions that need to be asked and some critical answers that need to be provided in order to make informed decisions about it,” Ross said.
Artzt’s husband Len Rosenduft said he understands the city needs to follow procedures for discussing a pre-application, but it’s disconcerting that city officials haven’t been as vocal as they were when they demanded the ice rink remain during the formation of the site’s Master Plan when Bridgepointe was originally developed.
Rosenduft said he and rink supporters want the Planning Commission to demand studies including an analysis of the city’s current recreational resources, an economic impact study that outlines potential financial losses to the city and a broader legal evaluation on the conditions of approval for SPI to update the plan.
The pre-application and application process will take significant time and, in the meantime, it’s within the city’s purview to make demands, Rosenduft said.
“Aside from legal arguments, there’s a second case, just from the moral standpoint. Why is it necessary to play hardball with the community and take away this recreational amenity?” Rosenduft said. “We believe it was integral to the original Master Plan and that the public is being denied benefits it expected and we want them to demand the rink be reopened now.”
The Planning Commission will hear from the public at Tuesday’s meeting and provide comment to SPI on its pre-application. The City Council will then have a chance to review it and provide comment at a future meeting. Unlike the first application, this second one requests council suggest what would be a suitable alternative recreational amenity.
Ross said he’s attentive to the community’s desires and has tried to offer SPI a compromise.
“I asked would they be open to us relaxing the height limitations over there, allowing them to go up, allowing the ice rink to stay and then as an extra added benefit to the community, would they be willing to put an open park terrace at the top,” Ross said. “That’s a win, win, win. They get their retail space, the ice rink people continue to come, we continue to get great commerce out of the place and we get the added tax benefit.”
However, Ross said he believes SPI may not be amenable to the possibility.
But Artzt, McAuliffe and Rosenduft said SPI took away a truly unique amenity that was supported by the public and city in years past.
“I’d like to see somebody in the city get on a bully pulpit,” Rosenduft said. “There’s legal persuasion, but I’d like to see more. The rest of the community is outraged, but we’re not hearing anything from the city and we think they’ve got room to speak out without compromising their ability to vote on future matters. What I’d like to know, personally, is [does the city] want to see an ice rink in San Mateo?”
The San Mateo Planning Commission meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 27 at City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo. For more information visit the What’s Happening page at www.cityofsanmateo.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 10