The community is invited to collaborate on a vision for the future of downtown San Mateo — one with new housing, transit-oriented developments, pedestrian-friendly streets and a bustling restaurant as well as commercial scene.
San Mateo is kicking off its Downtown Specific Plan next week and officials are urging the public to share their ideas on what type of road map the city should adopt to guide changes within its popular business district.
It’s almost impossible to consider what the next decade or more will bring to downtown without also focusing in on two city-owned lots slated for redevelopment. More than 2 acres straddling Fifth Avenue at Claremont Street have been pinpointed as ideal opportunities for addressing both a citywide problem as well as an issue particularly poignant for downtown visitors — affordable housing and parking.
“What happens on these sites will certainly be a strong catalyst for the rest of downtown,” said interim Deputy City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum.
This week, staff released a request for qualifications asking the development community to float ideas for the Worker Resource Center and former Kinko’s lots. The City Council has debated how to prioritize these last remaining assets purchased with funds from its former redevelopment agency funds — a once vital tool that in part allowed cities to use property tax revenue to support affordable housing projects before Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved them in 2012 due to state budgetary needs.
The lots must be redeveloped per the terms of the city’s negotiations with the state to retain the properties it bought in the 1990s, Kleinbaum said.
The two lots are currently used as surface parking, as well as for the nonprofit Samaritan House’s Worker Resource Center, and officials now seek a higher use for the valuable properties.
“These are some of the last remaining vacant pieces of property, especially in our downtown much less the whole city,” said Mayor David Lim, noting San Mateo has spent years talking about what to do with them. “I’m excited to see us finally starting to take some action and … have a robust discussion on how to develop these properties to the benefit of the whole community.”
Developers are asked to maximize below-market rate housing for those making up to 120 percent of the area’s median income, which is on the high spectrum of what’s considered affordable. The city also wants at least the 235 existing parking spaces to be replaced on site, with a preference for more as its bustling downtown has a well-known parking shortage.
Keeping goals broad will ideally inspire the development community to present a range of options that also take into consideration the city’s finances and how to fund construction of costly affordable units or parking spaces, Kleinbaum.
“We really wanted to make the [request for qualifications] as flexible as possible so we can get a lot of creative ideas on how we would balance those two uses and finance them,” she said.
Based on the size of the lots, the city could technically have as many as about 164 units. But that would have to be balanced with the replacement parking spots, as well as those needed for new housing, she said.
Redeveloping the two sites, as well as the private proposal to redevelop the former Endo Automotive building just north of the city’s lots into commercial space and housing, are expected to revitalize the outer limits of downtown.
“The east side of the tracks has been the sleepiest part of downtown for some time,” said Deputy Mayor Rick Bonilla, who hopes to prioritize affordable housing on the redevelopment parcels. “Our downtown itself is pretty well built out, but we have an opportunity here to examine varying options.”
Creating a path toward the future
The city decided it was important to align the redevelopment process with the update of its 2009 Downtown Specific Plan. That comprehensive planning document will cover a range of issues such as land use, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, mobility, commercial space, zoning, public gathering spaces and more, Kleinbaum said.
The kickoff meeting is Monday at the San Mateo Main Library and all are encouraged to get involved.
“It’s their community. Downtown San Mateo is a really important community asset and one of the most defining features of San Mateo and we want to make sure the future of downtown really reflects the direction that the community wants to see it go in,” Kleinbaum said.
The process is expected to take about 18 months and will involve an environmental review phase, she said.
Bonilla encouraged the public to get involved in the planning process for downtown as early as possible. Often, community members only show up at the last hour when decisions are being made about a particular project and Bonilla advised more people to engage in the comprehensive specific plan that will be used as a guide for the future.
“My request is that people come and take the time to inform themselves,” Bonilla said.
Representatives of the Central Neighborhood Association have expressed concerns at various stages about developments between their homes and downtown. The councilmembers noted they consider all viewpoints and appreciate hearing from the neighbors. But officials noted downtown is a citywide asset used by many throughout the region.
Councilman Joe Goethals agreed workforce housing is a priority on the city-owned lots and that providing parking as well as a customer base is good for downtown business. Noting how far the city has come, Goethals said he hopes to capitalize on the Caltrain station and making downtown pedestrian friendly.
“One-hundred years ago. San Mateo had a City Hall downtown by the train station, we were just a stop on the rail,” Goethals said. “We have built an amazing group of neighborhoods around our parks, around El Camino, and as we have built out the city, transportation is important again. … Focusing on one of our major transit hubs, which is the downtown Caltrain station, is going to be important to what the city looks like and what the residents’ experience is for the next 100 years.”
The Downtown Specific Plan kickoff meeting is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Main Library Oak Room, 55 W. Third Ave. Visit cityofsanmateo.org for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106