Property serving as ground zero for the former rent control debate in Burlingame is slated to be redeveloped into a large live-work project which received mixed initial reviews from city officials.
The Burlingame Planning Commission studied a proposal to rebuild neighboring parcels at the corner of California Drive and Oak Grove Avenue into a 26-unit project offering room for tenants to sleep where they are employed, according to video of the meeting Monday, June 12.
The properties eyed for redevelopment are an auto garage and the former home of Marie Hatch, the 97-year-old Burlingame resident who came into international focus last year when she was suddenly evicted after living in the single-story home for 66 years.
The proposal brought by Edward Duffy and designed by architect Ellis Schoichet offers four floors of spaces constructed in a fashion flexible enough to serve as a business headquarters as well as a home.
Commissioners seemed intrigued by the concept in their first study of the project proposed adjacent to the Caltrain station, but generally agreed the design required refining before moving ahead.
“I like the direction you are headed, but I think it could be a lot more elegant,” said Commissioner Will Loftis.
Concerns over inadequate parking, compounding traffic congestion as well as building and room design were highlighted by most officials during the study session, which featured no decision as the project will be evaluated again before returning to the commission for more review.
Commissioners and city officials also addressed the hardships associated with assuring the units are used the way they are intended, as there are no mandates requiring residents to work in the buildings.
Some commissioners held deeper reservations over the project though and questioned whether it was suitable for its proposed location on a main thoroughfare, surrounded primarily by smaller residences, businesses and schools.
“I love the idea. Let’s have live-work space. But maybe not this structure, at this time, on that corner,” said commission Chair Peter Gum.
The applicants meanwhile defended the merits of their project, claiming it was an innovative means of offering new housing to a community starved for residential development.
“Because of the need for different housing types in Burlingame and because of the transit-rich locale that we have here, it seems like this is an ideal use for this property and there are probably few places better suited for a development such as this in Burlingame,” said Schoichet.
Duffy said the project, should it ultimately receive the necessary approval, would ideally serve aspiring entrepreneurs in the startup market looking for both a home and job near public transit.
“This is basically what the young tech kids are looking for,” he said.
Considering the history of the property, tenants rights advocate Cynthia Cornell requested Duffy consider setting aside a few of the units at affordable rates for seniors living on a fixed income.
“This would show not just goodwill to seniors, but be an investment in our community,” she said.
Cornell led the failed fight for rent control and tenant protections at the ballot box last fall, when Hatch and her roommate Georgia Rothrock took center stage amidst the clash between renters and landlords.
Hatch, who died last March, and Rothrock, 85, were issued eviction notices in February 2017 by landlord David Kantz to make way for the land to be sold.
The displacement ended an alleged verbal agreement Hatch struck with a previous property owner decades prior, allowing her to stay in the two-bedroom home for the rest of her life.
Kantz claimed the property he inherited needed to be sold to fulfill legal obligations of a family trust. Shortly after the eviction, Hatch died and motivational speaker Tony Robbins intervened to pay for Rothrock’s relocation.
The story became international news as a model for the local clash over the rights of residents and landlords in a community crunched for housing where rents climbed alongside property values.
Cornell and others repeatedly pointed to the eviction as a sign of the struggle many Burlingame tenants face during their fight for rent control, just-cause eviction protections and other policy amendments which were ultimately shot down by voters.
In reference to Hatch and Rothrock, Cornell said she hoped the new property owners would consider consolations keeping Burlingame affordable for some.
“We lost two very valuable members of our community, but I hope with Mr. Duffy’s help we can assist seniors living here,” she said.
Other Burlingame residents and merchants also shared their perspectives on the proposed project, primarily surrounding concerns over compounding parking and traffic congestion. The project offers one parking space per unit, but many indicated they felt that would be inadequate to accommodate visitors.
Officials were receptive of the issues raised, and encouraged the development team to investigate such concerns during the project’s environmental review.
As the project heads back to the applicants for further revision, officials seemed broadly supportive so long as their input is reflected in the next set of designs.
“I think it needs to be tweaked some,” said Loftis.
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