After growing in size earlier this year and undergoing several design changes, the latest iteration of a San Mateo affordable housing proposal has earned the enthusiastic support of the Planning Commission and numerous residents.

Located on city-owned land at 480 E. Fourth Ave. and 400 E. Fifth Ave., the project includes 225 below-market-rate units in a seven-story building. A pedestrian bridge would connect the residential building to a five-level publicly accessible parking structure.

Restricted by voter-approved building height and density limits, the original proposal was 164 units in a five-story building. When Assembly Bill 1763, which allows for greater height and density near transit hubs regardless of local restrictions, took effect Jan. 1, the City Council took action. It directed nonprofit developer MidPen Housing to increase the size of the project, making San Mateo the first city in the state to leverage the new law.

In addition to the increased height and density, the project has also seen several design changes, including a brighter color palette, since it was last reviewed publicly. At a meeting Tuesday, commissioners largely welcomed those changes and applauded the development generally, but have yet to formally approve it.

“I don’t think in my four to five years on the Planning Commission have I heard such strong support from the public and that’s so encouraging to hear,” said Commissioner John Ebneter. “Overall this is a fantastic development in the right location. … This is a very important project and it sets a lot of things in motion in that area of San Mateo.”

The sentiment was echoed by roughly 20 residents during the public comment portion of the meeting, but concerns were also expressed. Chief among them were concerns about shadows being cast by the now taller building.

“Large shadows are cast on eight of the nine views from the seven-story height of the residential building and this needs to be addressed,” according to a statement by a group of residents in the Central Neighborhood Association. The authors of the statement said they prefer the original five-story option and also called for additional articulation to help reduce the mass and bulk of the building.

Another resident expressed concerns about the residential building being adjacent to the train tracks, arguing residents will experience light and noise impacts.

The concern about shadows was echoed by commissioners despite their overall support of the project.

“Going from a five-story building to a seven-story building is a huge impact positively because there are more units, but it’s not necessarily great in terms of shadows,” said Commissioner Margaret Williams, who proposed lowering the ceiling height of the units to bring down the overall height of the building.

MidPen representatives confirmed current ceiling heights are just under 9 feet. Williams said 8 feet is standard and suggested such a height would be ideal for this project to help reduce the building’s height.

Williams’ colleagues also urged MidPen to explore other means of potentially reducing the shadow impact.

Some residents said they’d prefer an even taller building, which is permitted by law. Nevada Merriman, MidPen’s director of housing development, said doing so would be too expensive because of the overall cost of the building would go up significantly and beyond just the cost of the additional units, she said, adding that settling on seven stories was a compromise with the neighborhood.

One widely held gripe with the original design was the color palette being too dark, so MidPen is now proposing a brighter color palette that seems to be embraced by all. According to a staff report, cream colored cement plaster walls are contrasted with sage green colored siding and cement panel accents are presented in a matte black finish.

To further add warmth to the modern design, MidPen is proposing traditional building material in the form of an off-white/gray colored brick veneer that was previously slated to be concrete, according to the report.

“I like the alternative color scheme, it feels like a better fit in the neighborhood,” said Chair Mike Etheridge, but also wondered out loud if the scheme was too similar to neighboring buildings. “I also like the materials — they all have an upscale appearance to me and that includes the brick veneer.”

The entirely electric residential building includes a community and learning room that some commissioners want open to the public, though that has not yet been decided. Also, 25% of the units will be reserved for public employees and MidPen is exploring whether it can also implement a preference for those with developmental disabilities. There will be a roughly even split of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

The existing worker resource center will be relocated, but the city is not yet sure where.

As for parking, the garage includes a total of 696 spaces, 532 of which will be available to the public and 164 will be for residents. Commissioners felt that amount of parking is sufficient.

In other business, the commission also reviewed the environmental impact report for the Concar Passage mixed-use development. Occupying 1.45 acres on Concar Drive between South Grant and South Delaware streets, the proposal is to demolish the existing commercial buildings and construct 961 multi-family dwellings, 73 of which would be below market rate, and 40,000 square feet of retail space. The project also includes a day care facility with room for 70 children, a Trader Joe’s, a 7-Eleven, Peninsula Ballet Theatre and a food hall.

This development proposal also received largely positive reactions from the community, though at least one resident is concerned about traffic impacts. The EIR, on the other hand, concluded the project will have a “less than significant impact” on transportation.

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(8) comments


I watched the Planning Commission meeting on this topic and want to add my voice in support of the project. We need affordable housing, not luxury housing. This is a great opportunity to add to our supply of housing that people can afford. One principle that I hear from many affordable housing advocates is the need to maintain standards for affordable housing that are equal to those for other projects in the area. This test is important to be sure we build housing that people want to live in. The Commission discussion had several comments on how to improve the project from Ellen Mallory and Margaret Williams. These points are critical to achieving the goal of providing a building we can be proud of. The article does not report that the Commission was unanimous only in support of the project but not its current design. Let's hope that Mid-Pen will respond to the constructive comments made by these Commissioners.


So cool how the phrase "luxury housing" is only ever applied to apartments, and never huge luxury McMansions like what Mr. Moneybags Nash probably lives in. [rolleyes]

Most of San Mateo is zoned ONLY for luxury housing buyers. Single-family homes that cost >$1 million are not anywhere close to affordable for most working people.

Christopher Conway

So don't buy them. If you can't afford something that is not the fault of society, affordable housing advocates need to remember Economics 101.

Alexander Melendrez

61 additional affordable homes for our essential workers and our most vulnerable community members. Every additional new affordable home added is another secured, shelter with a name, a face, a family, and a story. I'm so proud of San Mateo and I can't wait to see this move forward to City Council!


To further clarify, Commissioner Mallory was spot on in her criticisms of the project. Those criticisms are ignored in the report out, and this article.We thank Commissioner Mallory for being the lone voice of support for the legitimate concerns of residents.


This is a completely inaccurate article. Many here in the community, particularly Central Neighborhood (where the project will be built), do not like this redesign at all. We were very supportive of the original 5-story design, but this redesign has actually drawn a lot of criticism around it's design, parking, traffic impacts, and lack of public space, among other things. These legitimate criticisms have been largely ignored by the Planning Commission, MidPen, the City Council, and now apparently the SMDJ. This sets a terrible precedent for both development and journalism in San Mateo. We have to do better.

Cynthia Newton

I concur with mweinhauer, how this and the Passages project were portrayed as "high praise" with out any mention of the controversy there has been on both projects is beyond me. We all want affordable housing but all of the issues mentioned: height, parking, traffic impacts, lack of public space, are a big concern to many. The Passages project is just, if not, more controversial. This article did nothing to address these issues.

Christopher Conway

here is hoping the organizations and politicians listen to the concerns of the existing population that live near the project. I have been on the other end of getting affordable housing shoved down our throats and it will take a community effort on your part to get them to listen. In this virus dominated time, that is going to be tough. Good luck

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