East Side San Carlos has been the center of focus for the city’s Planning Commission with recently approved 2-acre life science development while tasked with guiding a vision plan meant to ensure new projects bring strong community benefits.
“We’ve discovered this could really be a place not just for the future employees of the area but for the larger community as a whole, as a place for everyone,” Lisa Porras, principal planner with the city, said during a meeting Wednesday, July 14.
Over the past two weeks, the Planning Commission has met to discuss the East Side Innovation District Vision Plan, a $500,000 effort to identify community interests for the area facing nearly 2-million square feet of development growth. Most of the 10 proposed projects are from life science developers.
Two of those projects came before the commission Monday, July 19, a 96,000-square-foot research site for MBC BioLabs at 1030 Brittan Ave. and a 25-acre research and development campus by Alexandria Real Estate Equities, bound by Industrial Road, Commercial Street and Old County Road.
The city has paused the review process for most proposals seeking a zoning amendment in the area including the Alexandria site. But the Brittan Avenue project was permitted to move forward after resubmitted plans reducing its building height from five stories to three, complying with existing zoning requirements.
The new three-story building would stand at 58 feet tall and would replace an existing parking lot. One level of parking would be underground with a surface level lot shared with the neighboring 930 Brittan Ave. building, also an MBC BioLabs site.
“I was impressed with how they had carried out that project and I’m thankful that they chose to be in our town and to do an even larger project,” Commissioner Don Bradley said.
Given that the development is bordered by the Las Pulgas Creek, the commission and public both expressed concerns for protecting the creek. City code requires new development to honor a 25-foot creek setback but the developer has requested to build to where the existing lot extends, which encroaches into the setback.
Ryan Guibara, president of Dewey Land Company, which acts as MBC BioLab’s developer, said the agency would not move forward without the encroachment permit, leaving the existing parking lot in place.
He suggested the new development would be a net benefit for the city, noting stormwater will be captured and treated on site before being released, a requirement of any project that claimed the site, staff noted. The site would also largely be energy self-sufficient, reducing potential strains on local electrical grids.
Despite concerns for the creek, the commission approved the project which offers street view improvements through landscaping including 21 trees around the site and four in a second-floor roof garden.
“Having a tree-lined street is just so much nicer than walking next to that ugly parking lot that’s there now,” said Commissioner Ellen Garvey, adding she was also pleased by the parking being “right sized.”
The site would also preserve public access to a bridge crossing the creek and proposes creating a public access easement connecting Brittan Avenue to the new Alexandria building through the site and bridge.
While no action was made on the future of the Alexandria site, commissioners offered feedback on the project’s environmental impact report which received mostly positive reviews. Soil toxins and flooding were at the center of commission concerns, given the site once belonged to the Kelly Moore Paint Company and also abuts Las Pulgas Creek.
Rebecca Auld, a California Environmental Quality Act expert with Lamphier-Gregory, noted the EIR can encompass additional study areas if deemed necessary. Alexandria also intends on producing a cumulative EIR, analyzing the effects of development for the entire Innovation District. Commissioners shared appreciation for the broad study which Garvey said will provide consistency in development.
Aside from toxins and flooding, commissioners also stressed the importance of encouraging multimodal transportation to and from mass transit and creating a community space for everyone in the area beyond traditional working hours.
“One of my worst fears would be that this would be a closed-off business park with its back turned towards the community,” Clements said.
East Side planning
The commission raised similar concerns when weighing in on the East Side Innovation District Vision Plan for the first time last Wednesday. Commissioner largely praised the document which calls for creating a pedestrian and cyclist focused corridor with ample green space and active corridors.
As the area grows, Clements noted commercial rents could increase and potentially strain existing small businesses which will likely need community and city support. Commission Chair David Roof also raised concerns for the jobs/housing imbalance which will be exacerbated by the thousands of jobs anticipated there.
Porras told commissioners staff is simultaneously working on the city’s Housing Element Plan, a state-required process for addressing future housing needs. The document will help inform how the city will accommodate changes from the new growth.
Plan details are still in the works with ample time remaining for community feedback, Porras said. The plan will come back to the commission for formal approval after the council holds its study session this summer. The City Council is expected to adopt the plan in September.
“These are places for public lives,” she said. “Innovation Districts are not just places for a nine-to-five job and then it’s empty.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106