Commercial real estate at the street level in downtown Burlingame should be primarily reserved for retailers or other businesses attracting shoppers and visitors, said officials opposing a plan to allow medical offices in the central business district.
The Burlingame City Council unanimously agreed Monday, June 7, to uphold current zoning regulations favoring stores, shops, restaurants and other similar businesses operating on the ground floor in the area around Burlingame Avenue.
The general discussion around whether to allow medical service companies to occupy the first floor of downtown commercial buildings was prompted by a dialysis clinic attempting to move into the former Anthropologie space on Primrose Road.
And though councilmembers did not make a determination specific to the request from DaVita to fill the storefront that has sat vacant for the last three years, there was broad consensus the commercial district should be kept primarily for businesses attracting shoppers.
Mayor Ann O’Brien said she was reticent to amend zoning regulations in the commercial district surrounding Howard Avenue, for fear of losing some of the commercial synergy that exists among businesses on the side streets connecting to Burlingame Avenue.
“Once you change zoning, there is no going back. And I know we are having some rough times with retail, but things go in cycles. And so I don’t want to change something that we might regret later,” said O’Brien.
What’s more, she noted that there are plenty of other areas in Burlingame where medical uses are allowed and would not require a zoning code amendment.
Councilmember Donna Colson shared a similar perspective, suggesting that officials continue emphasizing commercial uses downtown while also accommodating medical services in other parts of the city.
“We should continue to work to increase the vibrancy of this area by working on our retail and we should welcome medical uses in the many, many areas that they are currently zoned for in the city,” she said.
The decision by councilmembers aligns with a recommendation from members of the Burlingame Planning Commission, who also recently voted against allowing medical office buildings to occupy the first floor of certain business buildings.
Zoning code allows for offices to occupy the upper stories of buildings in those districts, and officials can make exceptions at the ground floor in specific instances. But officials are wary of lifting the broader office policy along the street, for fear of establishing a stale environment shut off to those visiting local nearby shops or restaurants.
Regional operations director Becky Garland said Davita was attracted to 220 Primrose Road due to its large size, allowing the consolidation of services into a 10,000-square-foot space downtown where it could be more accessible for patients.
Robert Tseng, a doctor who sends patients to dialysis, urged officials to consider allowing the center downtown because it would reduce the distance those needing care would be forced to travel to receive critical treatment.
“I think it is a win-win situation for patients, their families and the city of Burlingame to have patients and staff members stay in the community,” said Tseng, who added patients who need to travel to San Bruno or Daly City to receive care if the Burlingame site is not approved.
Councilmembers recognized the vital importance of allowing such services in Burlingame.
“I do think we would like to keep this facility local if we can,” said Colson, who instructed the city’s Economic Development Department to work with DaVita and see if another location elsewhere in Burlingame can be identified.
But ultimately, officials felt the center would be better suited to operate somewhere other than a downtown shopping district.
“There are just certain uses that don’t make sense in certain locations,” said Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz.