Whether plans to build 164 affordable apartments in downtown San Mateo include enough or too much parking and whether it should become the next home of the Worker Resource Center were top of mind last week for the city’s Planning Commission, which largely commended the project expected to boost San Mateo’s workforce housing stock.
The proposal to build a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units in a five-story structure at 480 E. Fourth Ave. and nearly 700 parking spaces in a five-story parking garage just south of the housing at 400 E. Fifth Ave. has been in the works for the city-owned redevelopment sites since city officials selected the nonprofit MidPen Housing as the developer more than a year ago.
At the Planning Commission’s April 23 study session, Mollie Naber, a project manager for MidPen, outlined the developer’s plans to designate at least 81 of the units for very low-income households earning between 30% and 60% area median income, or AMI, and another 81 units for moderate-income households earning more than 60% and less than 120% AMI. Though she acknowledged the development would be affordable to families at a range of income levels, Naber said a preference for families who live or work in San Mateo would be given. Two of the units will be occupied by managers of the development, according to a staff report.
According to the 2018 San Mateo County Income Limits posted on the San Mateo County Housing Department’s website, the area median income for a family of four is $118,400.
Though Commissioner John Ebneter acknowledged city staff’s efforts to project how much downtown parking the development could help provide, he still had concerns about whether the 699 parking spaces to be included in the project would motivate residents and downtown visitors to use the parking garage instead of taking advantage of the project’s proximity to nearby transit hubs. Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum explained the 535 public parking spaces is expected to meet a need for downtown parking identified in a parking management plan officials adopted in 2014 as well as replace the 235 public parking spaces provided on the existing surface lots.
“I don’t think we should be continuing to incentivize single-vehicle trips and unfortunately parking structures will encourage that,” said Ebneter, according to a video of the meeting.
Though Commissioner Ellen Mallory acknowledged the plans seem to include a lot of parking, she also noted the parking garage could encourage downtown visitors to shop in San Mateo and boost the city’s tax revenue. Mallory also voiced a concern about whether locating the 164 residential parking spots planned for the project at the top of the parking structure might make it too inconvenient for families living in the residential building across the street.
Though she acknowledged the developer’s efforts to plan for a mix of units — including nine studios, 70 one-bedroom units, 46 two-bedroom units and 39 three-bedroom units — Mallory also wondered whether more larger units could be accommodated given the demand for them among families.
“If we’re going to build 164 units, I’d like to see more larger units to accommodate children and their parents or children that have come back to live with their parents,” she said.
Several individuals stepped forward in support of the Worker Resource Center, which currently stands on the project site, occupying the 2,000-square-foot community space planned for the ground floor of the parking garage. In March, the City Council voiced support for relocating the facility aimed at connecting day workers with jobs in the new development but also recommended the space be built to accommodate several uses in case another location is identified for the Worker Resource Center.
One of several who spoke in favor of the Worker Resource Center, Jose Mares vouched for the facility’s role in the community, noting he was troubled by previously-voiced concerns about workers loitering or creating a trash problem. He said he is at the Worker Resource Center every day and has seen the facility operated by Samaritan House pair dozens of workers every day with jobs that help them support their families and supplement their income in an area where the cost of living has remained high.
“I feel it increases the value of the downtown area because the workers … they’re part of the community, they’re part of North Central, they shop there, they live there,” he said.
Chief of Planning Ron Munekawa noted the City Council has directed city staff to examine use of the community-serving space in the project and will ultimately make the decision on whether the space is used by the Worker Resource Center.
In response to Mallory’s question about what portion of the units would be could be set aside for public employees, Naber said the developer is planning to designate a minimum of 27 units for public employees and they are hoping to expand that to up to 25% of the total units provided on the site. Kleinbaum said the public employee preference would not be limited to San Mateo employees and could also include those working at school districts and other public agencies in San Mateo County.
Chair Dianne Whitaker joined several others in commending the developer on a good design for the buildings and also for boosting the city’s stock of affordable housing. She noted the project is slated to fulfill several goals outlined in the city’s General Plan and felt the use of the one of the two parcels for parking and the other for housing made sense.
“I think it’s going to be a great project for this location,” she said. “I don’t really find anything I can criticize.”
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