The proposal to preserve a large swath of unused property along the Burlingame Bayfront as a waterfront park and open space advanced under a recent decision by the State Lands Commission.

Burlingame Mayor Donna Colson said two others contending proposals — to build a new hotel or sports park — were not deemed viable by the state agency, leaving the open space offer the final option left on the table.

Donna Colson

Donna Colson

The decision marks progress for proposed uses of the 9-acre property at 401 Airport Blvd., which has long laid fallow and unkempt behind a fence east of Highway 101.

For her part, Colson lauded the process moving ahead with hopes that the property will soon be revitalized and open for the community to enjoy.

“I’m happy to see something moving forward,” she said. “We would love to see the ring fence come down and the property cleaned up and available for the public.”

The property is owned and operated by the State Lands Commission, which limits the authority of Burlingame officials in determining the fate of acceptable uses. State and local officials have been collaborating for at least three years to identify projects at the site which meet the community’s need as well as the state’s threshold for acceptable uses.

San Rafael company VillaSport proposed building an indoor sports facility, with some of the site reserved as an aquatic park and open space. But a letter sent from Nicholas Lavoie, public lands manager with the State Lands Commission, indicated such a use is not compliant with the agency’s guidelines for the property.

“The proposed indoor recreational facility is not water-related or dependent, would not confer a significant statewide benefit to Californians, can be easily located on alternative upland property, and, therefore, would not be consistent with the Public Trust,” said the Tuesday, Aug. 27, letter from Lavoie rejecting the proposal.

For the potential hotel, which was supported as the preferred use by some councilmembers, the applicant did not file a viable proposal, said Colson.

The failure of the other two proposals leaves the offer from the Sphere Institute, a Burlingame nonprofit headquartered nearby, to preserve the site as open space the last standing alternative, said Colson.

Sphere Institute’s vision to rework the property into an open space preserve built around interaction with the Bay dovetails nicely with the state’s desire to assure the public enjoys the site, some advocates have said.

Backers of the Sphere plan launched an online petition which received as many as 1,800 signatures earlier this month, promoting a vision of a Burlingame Shoreline Park, offering a venue for hiking, biking, picnicking, kite surfing, kayaking and other outdoor activities.

“Burlingame Shoreline Park would give residents a chance to interact with and learn from the Bay as a natural feature in our region,” said Megan Fluke, executive director of the nonprofit group Committee for Green Foothills in a prepared statement advocating for the Sphere proposal.

Furthering the argument for the park, open space advocates noted Burlingame’s Bayfront is already heavily populated with hotels and more similar proposals on privately-held land are in the works.

For her part, Colson said she favored the park’s development while noting any plans at the site need to accommodate the city’s effort to protect against sea-level rise.

“Whatever happens out there has to work with that,” she said.

Looking ahead, the Sphere Institute has been invited back before the State Lands Commission to further discuss its plans for the site, Colson said. Such a discussion may occur in October, according to an email from City Manager Lisa Goldman.

With more discussions on the horizon, Colson said she would ultimately back any proposal deemed viable that would establish some momentum for improving the state of the resource currently not being put to good use.

“I want something suitable for the public and however that has to happen, and whatever can make it happen, is fine by me,” she said.

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