Maintaining the natural elements of the undeveloped Borel Park while meeting community needs were among the considerations for San Mateo residents and members of the city’s Park and Recreation Commission Wednesday in discussing future plans.
Though a plan for a park on the 2-acre site along Shafter Street between Barneson Street and Borel Avenue has been in the works for years, a project to modernize and relocate Fire Station 25 to the site’s southern end brought funding to the project and spurred discussions of what would become of the rest of the site, according to a staff report.
In meetings with residents in October of 2016 and February, city consultant David Volz said many shared preferences to maintain the site’s large oak trees, provide a small enclosed playground and build walking paths on the rectangular site, among other ideas. He said previous versions of design incorporated space for a community garden and a fenced dog run based on resident suggestions. But the plan he presented to at the commission Wednesday did not include those elements, instead featuring a continuous path around a grass knoll and grove of oak trees and two separate play areas for younger and older children near the park’s main entrance at the corner of Shafter Street and Barneson Avenue.
In drawing out the park’s natural elements — such as a grove of oaks trees on the middle of the site and slightly elevated knoll with views — the revised version of the plan was aimed at responding to residents’ suggestion not to try to do too much in the small open space.
“What we heard from the community … was that the oak grove in particular was a nice feature and was what we should build the park plan off of,” he said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, residents stepped forward with questions about where park visitors would enter and exit the park and how traffic emanating from Borel Middle School and the new fire station had been considered in the plans. Volz explained most visitors would enter from an entrance on Shafter Street and Barneson Avenue or steps off Barneson Avenue at the park’s border with the school, and that a sidewalk would be added along Shafter Street.
Though resident Debra Emerson wondered whether planners expected visitors to drive there and park near the entrance, Commissioner Amourence Lee felt that by not including a restroom, the design reinforced the idea it was a neighborhood park instead of a destination.
As a resident on Edinburgh Street with a home adjacent to the school, Robert Whitehair said he was hoping a community garden could be accommodated on the site since he has a hard time growing plants at his home. Having worked on community gardens in New York City, he said he has seen the benefits of having a place to grow plants.
In response to Commissioner Heather Wolnick’s question about whether it might be possible to accommodate a smaller play space and some plots for a community garden on the site, Volz explained accommodating both may be challenging since planners usually include a buffer of space around play equipment to ensure safety. Parks and Recreation Director Sheila Canzian added that because community gardens need to be maintained and may also require extra space for green waste and irrigation systems, the small site may not be the best fit for a community garden.
Though Lee acknowledged the benefit of having community garden plots available, she said she also felt it may not be the best fit for the uses documented at Borel Park, where people are known to take walks and bring their dogs for exercise.
“I’m not sure this is the right venue for it in terms of maximizing use for the whole community,” she said.
Lee and Commissioner Eric Holm also asked whether some of the play structures, which have been designed to resemble natural elements like logs and insects, could be interspersed throughout the park so they are situated under trees already on the site instead of adding shade structures, which some residents disliked. Because resident complaints about the need for more shade, including at Borel Park, are logged at parks across the city, Canzian said measures to increase shade may still be needed but more natural-looking structures could be considered for this one.
Commissioners were also pleased to see the cost of the revised plan fit within the $800,000 budgeted for the park, which could come back before the City Council alongside plans for the relocation of Fire Station 25. Ground could be broken at the park as early as spring of 2019, before work on the two-story, 4,950-square-foot fire station planned at the corner of Borel Avenue and Shafter Street begins in July of 2019, according to the report.
Currently a 2,700-square-foot, single-story structure more than 50 years old and less than two blocks away, the station’s expansion is one among several projects proposed in recent years to improve the city’s emergency response facilities.
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