How a proposal to build a 138-unit apartment complex at 920 Bayswater Ave. and six adjacent parcels in Burlingame could be scaled back and adjusted to better fit with its surroundings generated more questions than answers for Burlingame planning commissioners and residents Monday.
Commissioners considered at least 30 written comments, a petition with 215 names of residents concerned about the project as well as several spoken comments, when they recommended the developer revisit the proposed structure’s massing, effect on parking and traffic on nearby streets and role as a transition from the city’s downtown to a more residential area in the city’s Lyon Hoag neighborhood between Highway 101 and the Caltrain tracks.
Commissioner Sandy Comaroto expressed concerns about the proposed project’s four-story height in a neighborhood with single-family homes, auto dealerships and apartment buildings. Included in the developer’s plans is the demolition of all the structures, including an auto repair shop, in the seven parcels lining the northeast corner of the intersection between Bayswater Avenue and Myrtle Road.
“I do think this is too massive,” she said according to a video of the meeting, adding that the buildings surrounding the 1.2-acre lot the seven parcels would form have consistently reached a maximum height of three stories. “I don’t particularly think that we need to bust out of the seams of every parcel that we’re looking at.”
Commissioner Richard Terrones urged the developer to find ways to further break up the facade and consider the zoning goals set forth for the area in the city’s downtown specific plan. Situated between the city’s downtown and Caltrain station and a residential neighborhood, the project was described as a “buffer” between commercial and transit-oriented uses by Mark Pilarczyk, a representative of the developer Fore Property Company.
“I think there needs to be some revisiting of the massing in that regard to create more graceful transitions as called for in the specific area plan,” he said.
Terrones found the four-story massing of the building to be an abrupt change from the nearby buildings and also had questions about how the developer planned to make modifications to the building’s proposed modern architectural style included in a previous version of the plans to a craftsman style Pilarczyk said the developer is using as inspiration for revised versions.
Though Pilarczyk confirmed that setbacks on the building’s facade as well as a courtyard and private decks planned for some units would help break up the project’s massing, Terrones anticipated some of the project’s neighbors could be concerned about preserving their privacy should residents on the decks and balconies of the building be able to look into their backyards.
Burlingame resident Jennifer Pfaff encouraged commissioners to consider more than minor changes. She did not think the 13 below-market units the developer planned to make available in the apartment complex should exempt the developer from following the zoning standards set for the parcels.
“That’s not a free ride for adherence to the design guidelines and policies that were set forth in the downtown plan,” she said. “I can assure you, this is not the downtown plan. It has nothing to do with it.”
Pfaff said she met with the developer prior to Monday’s meeting and attended a neighborhood meeting, but did not find the plan revisions the developer presented Monday to adequately address their primary concerns about the building’s height and mass. She added that the developer’s plans to remove most of the trees on the parcel in building the 190-spot below-ground parking garage and apartment complex could be adjusted to save trees on the edges of the parcels.
Burlingame resident Alan Huey asked the commission to consider the impact of hundreds of new residents on the capacity of nearby schools. As a resident of 870 Bayswater Ave., which he said is one block away from the proposed project and Washington Elementary School, he already had concerns about whether the school could accommodate his daughter when she attends elementary school in a couple years, and wondered what an influx of students could do to enrollment at nearby schools.
“I think one thing to really consider is with  units, we don’t know how many of those people will have kids, it’s really going to impact our schools,” he said.
Huey was also concerned about where employees of nearby auto dealerships, who routinely park on his neighborhood’s streets, will park should residents of the building opt to park on the street.
Pilarczyk cited studies showing younger residents choosing to live in apartment building are opting to use public transportation in lieu of cars for their commutes, and said he expects many of the building’s residents to be younger and work in nearby office buildings.
Commissioner Richard Sargent asked the developer to provide those studies when the plan is considered in the future, as many residents said they had experienced a parking crunch around new housing projects.
Commissioner William Loftis said he didn’t have strong feelings about the design or style of the plans, but acknowledged the project would help address the region’s housing shortage. He encouraged the developer to better outline the city’s benefits in allowing the project in future hearings.
“What does Burlingame get for this?” he asked. “I think that’s an important thing for the developer to be able to outline very clearly.”
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