Plans to turn the downtown San Mateo Draeger’s Market at 222 E. Fourth Ave. into a mixed-use building are proceeding, with the developer planning to bring back the popular grocery store at the site.
Marcus Gilmore of Lane Partners, the developer, said the goal of the five-story mixed-use building with more than 100,000 square feet of offices is to keep a grocery store downtown, provide affordable housing and attract downtown businesses. At a Nov. 17 Planning Commission meeting on the project, Gilmore said Lane Partners has yet to sign a lease with Draeger’s yet but has a signed letter of intent and is negotiating a lease.
Richard Draeger, the co-owner of Draeger’s Markets, acknowledged while there were questions about the proposed size of the grocery at 17,500 square feet, it would mimic its successful Los Altos location. The downtown San Mateo location is two floors and 60,000 square feet, with a market, deli, bakery, cooking school, restaurant and additional amenities. The Safeway at 1655 El Camino Real is around 37,000 square feet in comparison.
“There are a lot of aspects of this project that I do happen to love,” Draeger said. “I think this is a vast improvement to the downtown because it makes sense given demands for the space in the downtown and how expensive real estate happens to be for all of us operators.”
The plan would demolish the current Draeger’s Market and bring it back as a smaller store at the site. If the city approves the project and it stays as the proposed grocery store, Draeger’s would still have to leave its location temporarily during construction. There would also be 10 low-income residential apartment units, 104,000 square feet of office use, and 221 parking spaces through two levels of underground parking and one ground floor. The new site would include a ground-floor grocery store, offices on the second, third, and fourth floors and ten units of below-market-rate residential housing on the fifth floor. The applicant, Lane Partners, said it would be 74 feet tall with a total floor area of 152,000 square feet. The project site has East Fourth Avenue to the north, South B Street to the east, East Fifth Avenue to the south, and South Ellsworth Avenue to the west. The future grocery store would face Fourth Avenue. City staff said a transportation impact analysis found the project would generate fewer vehicle trips than the existing grocery store.
Commissioner Martin Wiggins said he had visited the Los Altos site and felt reassured the proposed size would meet community needs and felt the project met all requirements.
“All of the things that people might go in for today, I felt confident these are going to be there,” Wiggins said.
The commission approved the site plan and architecture review at its Nov. 17 meeting by a 3-2 vote. It will go to City Council for final approval in a few weeks. Commissioner Seema Patel and Vice Chair John Ebneter voted against it, citing the lack of housing at the site when it could have had more. Both commissioners wanted to see more housing than 10 units.
Patel had the same concerns at previous study sessions about the lack of housing in the project compared to increased office use and projected jobs that will come with the new development.
“When I look at this project, and I look at the fact we are adding another 500 plus jobs and only 10 units of housing, I struggle to find these uses complement the existing commercial uses in the vicinity given what has already gone in recently,” Patel said.
Ebneter felt the site offered minimum housing and didn’t believe the city and residents were getting the best project at the site.
“I’ve never seen or heard anyone talk about or write that we have an office space crisis, yet I do constantly hear and read we have a housing crisis,” Ebneter said.
Some planning commissioners asked the developer to add more dedicated residential parking spots for the 10 housing units. The developer has proposed six parking stalls and is not obligated to add residential parking.
Public speakers were mixed, with some welcoming the project while others expressed concern the architecture did not fit in with downtown and traffic infrastructure changes. The building design features brick siding, recessed windows and fabric awnings. Others wanted more traffic control because of all the new developments coming downtown.
“I think a lot of these older buildings in San Mateo are old and tired and rundown,” public speaker Steve Sirianni said, who has lived in the area for 30 years. “Having some of these new buildings, including this Draeger’s site, I think it looks fabulous.”
The City Council will hold a public hearing 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave. Go to cityofsanmateo.org/publicmeetings.