A proposed office and residential five-story building that calls for the demolition of a block of downtown San Mateo structures containing businesses, homes and restaurants received feedback from the Planning Commission calling for more housing units to balance the jobs growth expected.
“I realize that this lot is constrained by Measure Y, but I don’t think it’s a viable strategy to hope that someone else will come along behind and build the required housing that is needed to have balanced growth in our community,” Commissioner Seema Patel said at a Sept. 14 Planning Commission meeting.
The five-story, mixed-use building is approximately 237,110 square feet and is called Block 21. The projected block would be at East Third Avenue, South Delaware Street, East Fourth Avenue and South Claremont Street. It would be 183,000 square feet of office uses primarily on the first through third floors. The fourth and fifth floor would have some office space and 68 housing units, with 28 studio apartments and 40 one-bedroom units. Around 15% would be very low-income housing.
Two levels of underground parking will provide 356 parking spaces for office use and 34 parking spaces for residents. Private patios and shared open space will add up to around 10,300 square feet of residential open space. The contemporary design calls for large amounts of glass, while the color and materials proposed include stucco and concrete panels in a gray tone. Rain screen panels in a brown tone would be on the fourth and fifth levels for housing.
Applicant Windy Hill Property Ventures submitted a pre-application to demolish all existing buildings on the block. The current area has 11 parcels with 40 owners featuring residential, auto-repair, a gasoline station, restaurant and retail uses. Mike Field of Windy Hill said all owners have agreed to sell their property.
“We currently are in contract with all the owners and have the ability to buy the site, depending on how things move forward,” Field said.
The site is 1.51 acres at 65,888 square feet. Windy Hill also developed similar mixed-use projects nearby, at 405 E. Fourth Ave. and 406 E. Third Ave.
The proposed building height would be over 55 feet, requiring commission approval under state density bonus law. Measure Y currently limits building heights to 55 feet in the city. The project has requested a height limit increase by 2 feet and 8 inches, to slightly over 57 feet. The city can grant the request if it does not cause affordable housing cost reductions and meets state laws.
Several planning commissioners Tuesday suggested more housing while providing critique on building height and design.
Commissioner Adam Nugent stressed having a balance of residential units was essential to decrease the jobs to housing imbalance in the city. He noted one project would not solve all of the city’s problems, but he didn’t want developments that dug San Mateo into a bigger deficit. He wanted the city to maximize downtown real estate near transit areas.
“I’m very glad that we have more units in this than in the past two projects, but I also want to note that we are desperate for units, desperate for below-market-rate units,” Nugent said.
Patel said adhering to the bicycle master plan instead of providing exemptions helps bicyclists and minimizes blind exits to ensure pedestrian and bicyclist safety. She noted there was a lack of middle-income housing, particularly downtown. Some families only have options of renting or buying a multimillion-dollar house or a one-bedroom apartment.
“I think we should be making more opportunities for families to live downtown,” Patel said.
Commissioner John Ebneter said the design had spectacular overall architecture, but he was worried about it being overbearing. He was frightened by the speed of redevelopment in the area, particularly as old establishments face replacement by modern, sleek and potentially cold development.
“This is not going to protect the character of this neighborhood. This is going to continue to drastically change the neighborhood. I think we need to acknowledge it. This is going to change lives. This is going to change how people feel about the area and how it functions,” Ebneter said.
He was concerned about the look and massing of the development in the location. He wanted more floors of residential housing at low- to medium-income levels.
Field was disappointed by commissioner comments and felt backed into a position of potentially choosing two more residential unit floors based on commissioner requests or risk losing neighborhood support for the project as it is now.
“It’s pretty discouraging. I just want you to know that. I don’t know where to go from here,” Field said.
Vice Chair Margaret Williams acknowledged it was a difficult situation for Field. The city has emphasized providing more housing citywide, but doing so can increase neighborhood concerns in the immediate area.
“It’s not an easy position to be in, and I hear you,” Williams said.
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