Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
The southwest lot of the three corners site at Third Avenue and El Camino Real near downtown San Mateo is under construction while the other two lots remain vacant.
San Mateo’s three corners site, a prime juncture long blighted by the vacant parcels of former gas stations, is proving ripe for redevelopment near the heart of downtown.
The three parcels at the intersection of Third Avenue and El Camino Real are in different stages with a flurry of construction at one and little action at another.
Due to the site’s proximity to downtown, the intersection is considered a major gateway to the city’s busy business district and could collectively provide 41,000 square feet of office space, nearly 20,500 square feet of retail space as well as 11 residential units.
City officials, particularly those who’ve seen the two east lots sit vacant for nearly two decades, were thrilled when all three separate property owners approached the city with plans last year, said Senior Planner Julia Klein.
“The timing for all three, it was extraordinary. The city had been very very interested in this project for over 20 years, when the first gas station closed down,” Klein said.
The public’s and City Council’s interest in having something done with the small lots even prompted a discussion about enacting a vacant lot ordinance to deter blight at the entryway into downtown.
But action has begun as all three sites are in various phases after undergoing a joint review by the Planning Commission in December 2014. Plans for the northeast lot have been approved and the developers must secure building permits before starting construction. A formal application has yet to be turned in for the northwest lot, the most recent to be vacated and the only one sought for housing, Klein said.
The southeast lot at 2 E. Third Ave. is the furthest along with construction crews well underway on creating a three-story mixed-use retail and office building. The entire 23,899-square-foot facility will house 3,950 square feet of retail and 4,000 square feet of office space on the ground floor with 8,000 square feet of office on the second and third levels, according to the city.
Across the street, another three-story mixed-use building called the clock tower project at 221 S. El Camino Real will provide 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and another 21,000 square feet of office space spread between the second and third floors.
Both property owners have been talking to brokers about potential tenants and considering how the offices might be customized, Klein said.
Office space is a hot commodity, particularly in downtown San Mateo where the vacancy rate rivals downtown Palo Alto at just 1.51 percent as of November, according to statistics from Colliers International.
“There’s a strong demand for office [space] downtown, a lot of it has to do with having a lot of small office startups and they’ve been asking for spaces where they can grow and still be in the downtown. So these two office projects will help with that,” Klein said.
The northwest lot is the only one of the three to include residential units, which the city is also in dire need of due to the region’s well-known housing crisis. Unfortunately, the owners of that property have yet to turn in a formal planning application, Klein said. According to the owner’s preliminary proposal, it seeks to construct a four-story building at 2 W. Third Ave., the most recently vacated site of a former 76 Gas Station. The 26,626-square-foot building would include 5,626 square feet of retail space and common area on the first floor and a mechanized Klaus parking system that could automatically park 39 cars underground. The second, third and fourth floors would be about 7,000 square feet each and contain a total of 11 residential units, according to the proposal.
The applicant seeking to develop the site did not return a request for comment.
Because the northwest lot is closest to existing residences, there were more concerns that arouse about the potential impacts of redeveloping the site. However, redeveloping the site into housing — albeit a smaller project — could be helpful in dealing with the region’s housing shortage, Klein said.
While each site belongs to a different owner, there are some similarities amongst the unique planning process the sites had to undergo. As former gas stations, each parcel had to receive clearance from the San Mateo County’s Environmental Health Division to ensure adequate cleanup or remediation was done related to the underground gasoline tanks.
Last year, the Planning Commission reviewed all three pre-applications back to back so as to consider how the redevelopments would interact with one another and how the new buildings could serve as a gateway into downtown.
Klein said she’s very pleased to see progress at all three sites, particularly as the new projects and eventual road and pedestrian improvements will enhance one of the main entry points into downtown.
“It’s one of the major gateways in the city to the downtown area. It was great to have them come in at the same time because we can take a look at the entry features and how to combine and balance the projects,” Klein said. “In terms of trying to draw attention and make a better connection between the east side and west side of El Camino, it will be a significant improvement.”
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