Officials admired an ambitious housing and office building proposed near the Burlingame’s northern border, but stopped short of approving plans due to concerns over potential traffic and parking problems.
The Burlingame City Council offered largely positive reviews for a plans to build 60 residential units atop 148,000 of office space in a seven-story tower at 1766 El Camino Real, where the Peninsula Museum of Art was formerly located.
Noting the plans comply with new zoning rules for the area where officials are hoping to focus new dense development a short distance from the Millbrae train station, councilmembers expressed their appreciation for the proposal.
“I think it makes sense. I think it is the right location,” said Councilman Ricardo Ortiz, during the meeting Monday, Oct. 20.
But he balanced that support against concerns that the project could generate traffic and parking issues in the neighborhood, a sentiment shared by his colleagues as well.
Vice Mayor Ann O’Brien Keighran cited much more significant reservations regarding the traffic management plan proposed for the project, and suggested officials design some format for assuring compliance.
“There has to be accountability,” said O’Brien.
In recognition of those concerns, City Attorney Kathleen Kane said officials will review the city’s code to identify mechanisms available to enforce potential violations of the plan designed to mitigate neighborhood traffic and parking problems.
Councilmembers agreed to postpone a decision on the project until a later meeting, when officials can clarify the potential enforcement outlets.
Plans call for spreading the 60 residential units across the top two floors of the project, above four floors of office space and a lobby at the ground floor. The project is slated to offer 385 parking spaces in an underground parking lot plus about 18,000 square feet of open space. There will be three affordable units reserved for low-income tenants.
Observing the size and scope of the project, Councilman Michael Brownrigg expressed his dissatisfaction with the public amenities offered in return for allowing greater density and height.
“I have deep concerns with the rules that allow the project to come to us in this state,” said Brownrigg.
The public benefits offered in the project — the three affordable units and a public plaza — are not equivalent to the value for the city that developer Mario Muzzi received in roughly two additional two stories of development, said Brownrigg.
Looking ahead, Brownrigg said he believed officials should consider refining policies which grant the city greater bargaining power when considering community assets in return for additional development density.
“I strongly believe we need to look at the balance of benefits and concessions and put our finger more on the scale for housing — and affordable housing in particular,” said Brownrigg.
While expressing his frustration, Brownrigg noted the development proposed adhered to the existing rules and lauded elements of its design.
“I appreciate the quality of work. It looks pretty elegant. I like that there are two stories of housing. But it troubles me that we don’t have more housing,” he said.
O’Brien maintained a different perspective, suggesting officials have approved a slate of residential development that is yet to be built at a time when housing prices are dropping throughout the Bay Area amid the pandemic.
“It is becoming so much more affordable. I would hate to see a glut of housing and it not be filled,” she said.
For her part, Mayor Emily Beach sensed that a majority of her colleagues felt the project was ready to advance once officials returned with more details regarding the city’s ability to enforce compliance on the transportation plan.
“I think this is a good project,” she said.
In other business, officials unanimously approved spending $59,000 for an analysis of park trees with 4-foot circumference, as well as the city’s stock of mature eucalyptus trees.
The approval comes weeks after a San Mateo woman was killed in Washington Park when a limb fell from a cedar tree. Three others who were picnicking with woman were hospitalized in the tragedy as well.
With hopes of preventing future accidents, officials supported the proposal to examine an additional nearly 2,000 trees.
“With the tragedy at Washington Park, I think we were all mortified by it,” said Ortiz.