Burlingame officials approved a proposal to convert a property once the epicenter of the city’s rent control debate into a new development designed to accommodate live and work spaces.
The Burlingame Planning Commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Richard Sargent dissenting, to allow construction of 26 live-work units at the corner of California Drive and Oak Grove Avenue.
The redevelopment project will target the former home of Marie Hatch, who gathered international attention when she was evicted at 97 to make way for new construction at the site.
Recognizing the history of the property, which housing advocates cited repeatedly as an example of Burlingame’s affordability crisis, Commissioner Brenden Kelly said he supported the developer’s vision.
“The reality is that the time when someone will live in a single-family home at that corner is gone,” said Kelly, who favored rebuilding the property into a development accommodating multiple families.
Kelly’s perspective, which was supported by a majority of his colleagues on the commission, countered the position held by some neighbors who feared adding new units at the site would compound existing traffic congestion.
Commissioners recognized the threat of cars piling up near the intersection due to traffic visiting the development, especially when conflicting with the morning and afternoon bell schedule of the nearby high school. But ultimately they felt the benefits offered by the project outweighed such concerns.
“This is an opportunity to build some housing in an area where we need it,” said Commissioner Richard Terrones, echoing the perspective of those who have advocated for more residential development in an effort to make Burlingame more affordable.
One of the parcels slated for development once served as ground zero for the debate over the city’s housing crisis, following the eviction of Hatch and her roommate Georgia Rothrock. The story became international news for its insight into the local clash over the rights of residents and landlords in a community crunched for housing where rents climbed alongside property values.
Hatch died shortly after her eviction, while motivational speaker Tony Robbins intervened to help finance Rothrock’s relocation to a housing facility in Belmont. Earlier this year, Hatch’s son accepted a $200,000 settlement paid by the landlord who evicted his mother, ending a financial elder abuse lawsuit filed in county Superior Court.
Looking ahead, the property will become 26 units spread in the second through fourth floor of the building where residents could operate a business and also live. The ground floor of the building will be reserved for a retail or commercial space.
Officials previously critical of the building design lauded amendments made by architect Ellis Schoichet, who most notably crafted changes to the exterior design in response to previous feedback.
For the most part, commissioners expressed their appreciation for the willingness to reconfigure elements of the project according to their feedback.
“The project has come a long way,” said Commissioner Will Loftis, who previously suggested that it felt cartoonish in its design and attempt to blend with the surrounding neighborhood.
He tempered his enthusiasm by noting he believed additional amendments are in order, specifically by suggesting the size of the balcony decks are too large. But ultimately, he favored approving the project, so long as the developer expressed a willingness to address design details in the plan approval process.
“I think it can be fine-tuned and it should be fine-tuned but that should not stop it from moving forward,” said Loftis.
Such a sentiment was not unanimous though, as Sargent said he believes more work needed to be done to refine the exterior design, specifically on the portion of the building facing the nearby intersection.
While generally lauding the project and its ability to blend well with its surroundings while also expanding the reaches of the downtown retail district, Sargent could not overlook his design concerns to vote in favor.
“The thing I’m still having a hard time with is the corner and how the architecture is treated,” he said.
To address such issues, commissioners suggested Schoichet and his team continue working with city staff to revise the design. If appropriate amendments are not made in the future, officials suggested they might call the project back for further discussion.
Ultimately though, officials agreed the project was close enough to approval to justify voting in its favor.
“It does feel like it could be turned into a very elegant building,” said Loftis.
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