Burlingame officials again approved by the narrowest of margins a residential development proposed at the outskirts of downtown, placing the community’s need for housing ahead of neighborhood compatibility concerns.
The Burlingame City Council voted 3-2, with Mayor Ricardo Ortiz and Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg dissenting, to OK construction of a 27-unit apartment building on Douglas Avenue, according to video of the meeting Monday, June 5.
The decision confirms a similar 3-2 approval by the Planning Commission last month, which was appealed to the council by neighbor Larry Stevenson over concerns the project was too big for its surroundings.
Frustrations expressed by Stevenson and his neighbors regarding the size and scope of the five-story building proposed at 1132 Douglas Ave. were acknowledged by councilmembers, but ultimately outweighed.
“I think it is great to keep it quaint and sweet and that’s a great goal and I hope we can do that,” said Councilwoman Donna Colson, of Burlingame’s community character. “But at the same time, we have an opportunity and a developer who is willing to risk capital and money to put a project in here that will add 27 units of very much-needed housing. Housing that is very much needed not only in Burlingame, but on the Peninsula, that will target the types of people we are losing in this town because they cannot afford to live here.”
Colson said she believes the project is slated to be the first apartment building constructed in Burlingame since 1995. Jacob Furlong, of Dreiling Terrones Architecture, said the project proposed by Zers Development would set aside two units for those earning 110 percent of the county’s median income.
Councilwomen Ann Keighran and Emily Beach ultimately voted with Colson, while noting there are still design concerns regarding parking, as well as preservation of a tree at the corner of the property.
Parking issues were so significant for Brownrigg, he voted against the proposal. He suggested either building a second level of underground parking, or removing a top floor from the proposal as a means of rectifying the issue.
“I just can’t support this project as designed,” he said.
Ortiz also took issue with the development plans, and suggested it be sent back to the Planning Commission for further examination.
Stevenson cited property layout concerns as well, while his neighbors claimed the project towers over its surroundings.
“I think it is too large,” said neighbor Carolyn Root, who said there would be more space on the property to manage parking and landscaping if the project was scaled down.
To the concerns regarding size, Furlong noted the neighborhood zoning regulations on the border of downtown allow the project as proposed and pointed to similarly large buildings nearby as precedent for the development.
Under the approval, the front segment of the historic home of former stationmaster James Murphy at Douglas Avenue will be relocated to a site at Oak Grove Avenue and the neighboring lot will be razed to make way for the apartment building. The property belonging to Murphy, who also once worked as the city clerk, is recognized as a Burlingame historic resource and a segment must be preserved.
While recognizing issues raised by fellow councilmembers and residents, Beach said she believed in the merits of the project.
“I think the project is reasonably supportable,” she said. “It does represent compromise, and not everyone is going to be happy, but it is supportable.”
In other business at the meeting, councilmembers laid the groundwork for establishing fees paid by developers proposing to build offices, retail spaces or hotels.
City staff will return in coming weeks with more details about the proposal to charge builders as much as $22 per square foot for office projects, $10 for hotels and $5 for retail spaces. The exact amounts will be refined and brought before the council for approval.
Councilmembers suggested they may support applying a sliding scale charging the higher rates to developers proposing larger office projects, and also showed interest in offering a discount for builders paying workers the area’s prevailing wage.
Questions still remain over whether projects still in the planning pipeline would be subjected to paying the fees, as some officials expressed concern applying the new regulation might cause an unfair burden to builders working on a tight budget.
The revenue generated by the fees would fuel a fund designed to address the high cost of living in Burlingame. Similar fees have been adopted by officials across the county under an effort to raise money for combating the housing crisis.
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