A rendering of the new apartment project approved for construction by South San Francisco officials.
The ongoing effort to rejuvenate South San Francisco by attracting new residents downtown took another step forward as city officials approved a new apartment building only blocks away from the city center.
The South San Francisco Planning Commission voted 6-1 Thursday to allow development of a seven-story residential project proposed at 150 S. Airport Blvd., adjacent to the southern gateway of downtown.
Under the commission’s Jan. 19 approval, ground can soon be broken on the project aiming to spread 157 apartments across the top five stories of the building, sitting above two floors of parking and other amenities such as a leasing and fitness center. The project was initially designed for 107 units, but the most recent proposal hiked its size. Units will range from studios to two-bedroom apartments.
Though the development designed by DNA Architects ultimately received the support needed, some commissioners shared reservations regarding its fit downtown.
“If we are going to build high-quality housing that will provide best-in-class opportunities for the community, then I’m not sure this is that,” said Planning Commissioner Carlos Martin, according to a video of the meeting. Martin issued the sole vote against the proposal.
Citing its location on a busy corner of the city near a Highway 101 access point, Martin raised questions regarding whether the project included an adequate amount of open space for prospective tenants. Considering the proximity to the Caltrain station, he also identified the likelihood that the units would be inundated with train noise.
Though he noted the project addressed the city’s need for additional housing, he felt the demerits were too substantial to overlook.
“This doesn’t feel like an optimal area,” Martin said. “Yes, we are getting housing. But are we getting a community? Is this helping the community?”
Commissioner Mark Nagales also expressed concerns regarding the absence of any affordably-priced units offered in the project.
By state law, the project is not required to include any below-market rate units, because the apartments are for rent. Only developments including units for sale would be obligated to set a portion aside at an affordable price.
Under pressing by Nagales, the developer ultimately agreed to offer two apartments at an affordable price.
Commission Chair Alex Khalfin said he recognized the validity of the issues raised by his more critical colleagues, but ultimately believed the project offered a variety of valuable community enhancements.
“There is no such thing as a perfect project. What we have to do is balance the good and the bad, and for me personally, I think there is more good than bad,” he said. “I think this is a bigger part of the larger vision of what we need to accomplish.”
The project’s approval comes amidst a concerted effort by South San Francisco officials to pump new life into the area surrounding Grand Avenue through the construction of a variety of new residential developments.
The location of the 150 S. Airport Blvd. development is only blocks from the massive Sares Regis project aiming to add more than 250 new apartments and townhomes near the 400 block of Airport Boulevard.
A central focus of officials interested in rejuvenating the core commercial district through development of new residential projects is capitalizing on a relocated Caltrain platform designed to move the station closer to downtown.
Officials are hopeful the station will enhance the interest in transit-oriented developments where future residents lean on easy access to the train or a short commute to the city’s hub of biotech jobs east of Highway 101 as a means of avoiding traffic and parking congestion problems downtown.
Commissioner Alan Wong said he believed the development would further the goals of the downtown rejuvenation plan.
“I like the project. We do need the housing. This is a big step forward in revitalizing the area,” he said.
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