A drastic change to a proposed wellness community in Burlingame will include 477 homes for seniors, of which 184, or 39%, will be designated as below-market rate, according to the Peninsula Health Care District and MidPen Housing, which joined the development team.

The move was a response to pressure from the community and lawmakers as well as changing needs, officials from the Peninsula Health Care District said.

Cheryl Fama, CEO of the Peninsula Health Care District, expressed enthusiasm for the partnership between the district, MidPen and the developers PMB and Generations, both of which have been working with the district on the project since 2017. By bringing together their various experiences with development, health care, senior communities and affordable housing, the partnership will allow the district to address a growing need for affordable housing while maintaining its vision for creating a community dedicated to the healthy aging of older adults, she said.

“What we’ve wanted to do from the beginning is to help redefine the intersection of health care delivery, senior living and research,” she said. “We’re in a position to bring the best that the world has in treating folks to age gracefully.”

The affordable component of the development will be for seniors who are in the extremely low-income, low-income and moderate-income brackets, and is a shift from the district’s original plan of 375 senior housing units, 250,000 square feet of professional office and medical research space, plus additional amenities on what is now 6.42 acres of land the district owns in Burlingame near the Mills-Peninsula Medical Center on Trousdale Drive. Of those 375 units, about 10% were planned to be below market rate.

Fama said she is excited to see the new community become a hub where new technology and research is leveraged to better connect seniors living at the mixed-use facility with the outside community. She added its location between Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco and near Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, transit stops, schools and assisted living communities makes it well-positioned to achieve those goals.

Original concept

The original concept of the wellness center was to provide services for the community’s aging population, as a way to promote healthy lifestyles and increase social connections. Though the wellness center has been years in the making, its origin was before the housing crisis became as pronounced as it is today. In recent months, there has been more pressure placed on district officials to change its plans and include more housing, particularly affordable housing. A letter sent this summer from the offices of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, again urged health officials to reserve a portion of the sweeping development for below-market-rate housing.

The letter was the most recent in a line of similar attempts to persuade district officials. Among those efforts include Speier last year releasing a letter expressing the same intent, while officials from San Mateo and Burlingame have attended public meetings making similar interests known, alongside local affordable housing advocates.

The Peninsula Wellness Center concept includes a 100,000-square-foot Center for Community Health which will be a multi-purpose hub with many community-serving amenities. The final plan will be informed by additional community feedback but will likely include some of the following: art studios, urban community gardens, medical offices, cafes, a health club, a library, open spaces for gathering and meeting rooms open to all.

MidPen partnership

Jake Rohe, partner at PMB, looked to the addition of MidPen to the development team as a great benefit to the partners’ work as they aim to offer innovative health care and wellness resources to the community and address the region’s growing need for housing. In meetings with community members, Rohe said the desire for more affordable housing was heard loud and clear, and said he looked forward to leveraging MidPen’s track record for building affordable housing integrated with health and wellness resources. PMB is a real estate developer and owner focused on health care and Generations is a developer, manager, and service provider for senior living communities.

“It’s a rapidly evolving market, health care is incredibly dynamic, what’s going on in the local market is shifting all the time,” said Rohe. “One of the things that we wanted to do was to make sure that the wellness community … is as responsive to the community’s needs today as it can possibly be.”

Matthew Franklin, president and CEO of MidPen Housing, said the nonprofit housing developer has forged a number of partnerships with health care providers in San Mateo County and was very excited to have an opportunity to expand upon that work at an even larger scale with the Peninsula Wellness Center concept. He said the vision the district shaped with PMB and Generations was aligned with much of MidPen’s work in fostering integrated communities, and noted the community’s location near transportation and neighborhood amenities will be critical in securing available state and federal funding for the affordable housing included in the project.

“We were eager to have the opportunity to participate in that vision,” he said. “It’s really incredible, in my view, that we’re able to go to 184 affordable units … it will be a tremendous step forward in meeting need for affordable housing in Burlingame.”

Thrilled by affordability

Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, was thrilled by the revised proposal’s inclusion of nearly 40% affordable homes as well as mix of uses on the site, adding she hopes the concept is embraced by the community.

“What a great place for our seniors to live,” she said. “It looks like it’s going to be a really fantastic opportunity for low-income seniors that are currently locked out of the community.”

Finalizing the terms of the ground lease between the district and the developer, and completing environmental review and obtaining the necessary entitlements and approvals from the city is projected to take up to three years before any construction can start. Construction is projected to take two to three additional years with occupancy approximately five years out, according to the district.

The district was initially intended to operate the medical center but that was taken over by Sutter Health which constructed a new medical center. District officials then pivoted to assuring district properties and resources through taxes it collects serve the health needs of residents in San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame, Hillsborough, San Mateo and Foster City.

The wellness center derived from calls in the community to do something with the district’s growing reserves. Last decade, the reserves had reached up to $55 million in part because officials argued it needed to make sure it had the money should Sutter somehow default or pull out of its agreement to run the hospital. The district then decided to put a large amount of its reserves toward property acquisition near the hospital and that transformed into a vision for a large-scale one-stop health care campus.

Chip Gabriel, president of Generations, said his company has designed senior communities offering on-campus day care and activities inviting students at local schools and neighbors to engage with older adults. He voiced support for the focus on making the Peninsula Wellness Center a hub for wellness resources for both those who live there and outside community members. In addition to leveraging the Bay Area’s emerging health care technology and research, Gabriel felt the site would be prime to meet several community needs.

“The programming that we’re going to do and the vision of the health care district is so in tune with where communities and societies want to go,” he said. “This is really just going to the next level.”

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