Burlingame officials are examining ways to push an affordable housing development proposed on city land past environmental challenges posed by underground contaminants.
The Burlingame City Council discussed during a Monday, April 17, study session opportunities for working with Pacific West Communities to overcome hurdles facing a joint downtown parking project plus workforce and senior housing proposal.
After soil contamination was found under neighboring surface parking lots eyed for housing and a public parking garage, some councilmembers expressed a willingness to consider help financing the development.
Pacific West Communities said a toxic plume beneath a surface lot bounded by Park Road and Lorton Avenue, south of Howard Avenue, will require $1.85 million to clean up, pushing a proposed underground parking lot for the housing beyond budget. As a result, the builder suggested constructing the parking on the first floor of the building at the expense of some units.
Officials had expressed interest when selecting the builder in 2015 to construct 66 affordable and market rate units for seniors and 78 affordable housing units, which may be set aside for city workers, teachers, emergency response personnel and others who wish to live and work in Burlingame.
In February though, the builder said the development must be trimmed to 124 units, and some of the larger units were cut down to accommodate the space lost by the revised parking plan.
Dismayed by the shrinking proposal, officials asked to see new plans with underground residential parking built back in and a restored number of units financed partially by a contribution from the city’s parking fund.
As the project approved two years ago goes back to the drawing board, Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg encouraged officials and the developer to move quickly.
“I would love to have the parking underground. I would love to have more units. But I worry this process has taken close to two years, and there is a timetable … I’m a little concerned about letting the best be the enemy of the good,” Brownrigg said.
Councilwoman Ann Keighran though said she could support the extra time required to craft revisions, so long as officials are offered a proposal more closely reflecting the one approved in 2015.
“I’m here for a good project, and if it takes longer to get a good project, then so be it,” she said.
Pacific West Communities founder Caleb Roose said the amended plans should only take a couple weeks to produce, and City Attorney Kathleen Kane said councilmembers should formally review the new proposal during an upcoming meeting.
There is an additional incentive to move rapidly on the project, as it is largely financed through use of tax credits which stand to expire at the end of the year, said Roose.
Beyond the threat to financing, councilmembers said the project should move quickly as a testament to the city’s commitment to making housing in Burlingame less expensive.
“At some point if you don’t move forward with a housing project, you aren’t for housing,” Brownrigg said.
Also a concern to councilmembers was the design of the public parking garage proposed across the street from the housing on another surface lot bounded by Lorton and Highland avenues.
Some said the structure was too bulky and needed to be redesigned to blend better with its surroundings, while others suggested contributing money from the parking fund could pay for an additional floor of spaces.
Roose said the city money would help ease the financial burden and may free up some money to be paid toward cleaning up the toxicity below the residential parking underground.
“If you have parking money, I could deliver more units,” he said.
Alternatively, Councilwoman Emily Beach said she would be concerned with the city ponying up additional dollars for a project which officials have already contributed to by donating land for redevelopment.
“It feels better not to have money come from public funds,” she said.
Amidst the variety of competing proposals leading to plan revisions, Mayor Ricardo Ortiz urged the city to move promptly on a project which he considered important for Burlingame residents.
“I’m really frustrated we are still talking about this. I’m frustrated we have nothing to show for a solution ... I would love to see this move forward,” he said.
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