Soil contamination found underneath a proposed affordable housing complex in downtown Burlingame is causing a developer selected to build on city property to claim the project must be shrunk.
Pacific West Communities told Burlingame officials during a Tuesday, Feb. 21, study session excavating soil below a surface parking lot bordering Howard Avenue to make way for an underground tenant garage will be impossible due to pollution concerns.
As a result, the developer wants to replace the first floor of a proposed senior and workforce housing project with the displaced parking spots, resulting in a loss of 20 proposed units.
The revised proposal offering 124 units was presented for the first time to Burlingame officials who were dismayed to discover the hurdle, but maintained optimism for the project’s future.
“I’m disappointed the issue came up, but I’m pleased there is a workaround,” said Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg.
One of the alternative solutions identified by Brownrigg was dividing some of the larger two-bedroom units into more, smaller units such as studios or one-bedrooms. Community Development Director Bill Meeker said the developer has also expressed interest in increasing the height of the project to make more room for some of the lost units.
Such a proposal requires further vetting from officials who expect the project will be brought back for a later study session, said Meeker. No decision was made at the most recent meeting.
Officials have been aware of the presence of the soil contaminants, said Brownrigg, but did not know the issue was so severe that it would cause the developer to reconfigure plans.
“It is fair to say we were surprised and disappointed to find that we couldn’t go underground for the parking,” he said.
Considering the revised proposal and the time elapsed since the project was approved by councilmembers last April, Brownrigg said he believed a meeting was overdue.
“It was a chance for everyone to check back in,” he said. “We were all, including the developer, starting to feel like we were a little disconnected.”
The housing is proposed to be built on a surface parking lot bounded by Park Road and Lorton Avenue, south of Howard Avenue. In their same proposal, the developer has also offered to construct a public parking garage across the street to the east in another surface lot bounded by Lorton and Highland avenues.
Brownrigg said he believed the complete initiative aims to confront a couple of the most significant issues threatening the quality of life in Burlingame.
“I think the project not only addresses the crisis of affordable housing, but also addresses the problem of insufficient parking downtown,” he said.
He imagined once building is complete, an incentive program could be offered to downtown merchants allowing employees to park their cars in the structure, in turn freeing up some of the available surface spaces.
“I think at the end of this project, Burlingame will have a better shopping experience,” he said.
Brownrigg said following the next study session, he expects the project to carry onto the Planning Commission for further refinement, with the expectation of moving it through the approval process in time to break ground early next year.
The builder is leaning on access to tax credits to finance a portion of the project, but no financial backing is from the city beyond contribution of the property.
Brownrigg said officials and the developer are sensing some pressure to move ahead promptly and get the project underway.
“Everybody feels a sense of urgency,” he said. “That is important, because the way the financing works, there is a point where the clock runs out … it is in all of our interest, if we care about this project, to make sure it keeps moving.”
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