Fitting a four-story building designed to offer residents combined live and work space into the former epicenter of Burlingame’s rent control debate is proving challenging for the project applicant.
The Burlingame Planning Commission offered lukewarm reviews to a 26-unit live-work project proposed at the corner of California Drive and Oak Grove Avenue, according to video of the meeting Monday, Nov. 13.
Officials complimented the vision of the project aiming to replace the former home of the late Marie Hatch, the 97-year-old Burlingame resident evicted last year to make room for the property redevelopment.
But concerns over the project height, building materials and the threat of compounding existing parking and traffic issues clouded much of the feedback offered by officials.
“I think overall it’s a great building. I can see it fitting into a whole lot of places. But I don’t think it’s a fit here and I think it’s a dangerous precedent,” said commission Chair Peter Gum.
No decision was made at the meeting, as commissioners offered feedback on the proposal which is slated to return for further examination at a yet to be determined date. It will ultimately move onto the City Council for final approval.
Officials were not the only ones to criticize the project though, as residents and neighbors also raised issues with its design.
“I think it’s bombastic. I would be very upset if this were in front of my property,” said resident Jennifer Pfaff, who encouraged the builder to consider using different materials to make it appear more warm and inviting.
Resident Mary Jane Cerelli expressed her concerns with the project as well.
“It seems out of place for the location,” said Cerelli, who too suggested the project would compound existing traffic and parking difficulties in the neighborhood.
Architect Ellis Schoichet though defended the intent of the project he considered an innovative approach to addressing the region’s housing shortage by offering tenants a place to work where they live, not far from the city’s Caltrain station.
“This is a really good opportunity to provide the kind of housing that hasn’t been seen in this area,” said Schoichet.
As proposed, the project would offer 26 units spread in the second through fourth floor of the building where residents could operate a business and also live. The ground floor of the building would be reserved for a retail or commercial center, as part of the proposal revised from initial plans.
Some officials questioned whether the project could include affordable units, but Planning Manager Kevin Gardiner said it is unlikely since the builder is not seeking additional density beyond the amount allowed at the site.
The community rift over affordability in Burlingame came to a head last year surrounding this property, following the eviction of Hatch and her roommate Georgia Rothrock.
The story became international news for its insight into the local clash over the rights of residents and landlords in a community crunched for housing where rents climbed alongside property values.
As officials continue to examine Burlingame’s affordability issues following the failed rent control ballot measures in last year’s election, during which Hatch was repeatedly referred, some have said innovative property uses such a live-work spaces could be in order.
To that end, Commissioner Brenden Kelly lauded the vision of the project.
“I think this is a great opportunity for this corner,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Sargent also supported the project’s intent, while lending credence to concerns over whether it was the right idea for the property.
“The arguments about it being the appropriate place for it are pretty compelling,” he said, noting the coming environmental review process will address many of the expressed concerns.
Despite echoing Pfaff’s frustrations regarding architecture, Commissioner Will Loftis leaned with those who felt the project may be ultimately be suitable at the proposed site.
“It feels very massive. However, I think it’s moving in the right direction and this is the right project for this location,” he said.
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