The Foster City Planning Commission expressed approval for a proposed redevelopment of the vacant El Torito restaurant into a life sciences building at 388 Vintage Park Drive at its study session, with the possibility of additional mixed-use and residential housing options discussed.

“I think it is appropriate, and I think it would be beneficial for the city of Foster City and the community,” Commissioner Nicolas Haddad said. “I think this development is going to bring additional strength and opportunities to life in Foster City, so I am OK with it.”

The 2.2-acre site is at Vintage Park Drive and Chess Drive in the Vintage Park neighborhood near the boundary between Foster City and San Mateo. The Foster City Planning Commission discussed feasibility, development use and parking options at its Aug. 12 study session.

The applicant, SteelWave and Helios Real Estate, submitted plans in September. The proposed plan call for the demolition of the 10,120 square-foot vacant building. An approximate 95,931 square feet life science building would replace it with 180 parking spaces and a four-story building, approximately 68 feet tall. Three stories would be devoted to office space and one level of parking. The proposal calls for a B occupancy Life Science office use, a building for office and professional service-style transactions, including labs for testing and research. The existing landscape and park would remain, with the new building in a similar position to the vacant restaurant.

The ground level would be a garage with 87 parking spaces accessed through a driveway at the northwest corner of the building. Around 93 parking spaces would be along the northern and western boundaries of the site. About 20 bicycle spaces and 14 motorcycle spaces would be available.

El Torito restaurant closed in 2018, and subsequent City Council discussions determined a different redevelopment option other than a restaurant was feasible, given the lack of finding a restaurant option for the lease. The current zoning in the Vintage Park General Development Plan designates the site for a restaurant and would require an amendment to the plan or rezoning to redevelop it into a life sciences building.

A preliminary fiscal impact analysis from the applicant found there would be $286,000 per year in net revenue for Foster City. It would be a net increase of $213,000 in the annual city general fund compared to a restaurant.

The commission discussed the feasibility of mixed-use or housing on the site and if it would work. Ben Yu of SteelWave noted it was challenging to have mixed-use given the site configuration, especially with a restaurant that requires a significant amount of parking.

Commissioner Charlie Bronitsky said he didn’t think a restaurant would work with the present site configuration and favored a life science building. He thought residential housing should be considered on the site, given concerns about the jobs and housing imbalance.

Haddad acknowledged a housing element issue, but he thought it could be managed at other locations.

“I think life science development in downtown Foster City is more applicable or reasonable than residential,” Haddad said.

Chairman Rick Wykoff said while a discussion on residential housing is not in its prerogative on the site right now, staff indicated it was something that could be explored.

Vice-Chairman Evan Adams said the building was appropriate and that lab space was needed. He felt a mixed-use option with a restaurant space was also suitable.

“I see no reason why a change in restaurant design, smaller, wouldn’t work here. Therefore I don’t think it’s a matter of life science or nothing, but it’s more of a matter of restaurant and something,” Adams said.

Ravi Jagtiani felt a life science building was appropriate, given that the owner looked for two years for a restaurant to replace El Torito.

“I think it will be the least disruptive in terms of population and housing requirements in the future. So overall, I think I am in support of this use,” Jagtiani said.

A parking reduction request for a 42% reduction in parking capacity was included. However, most of the planning commission was against the request, citing concerns about the lack of parking in Foster City and Adams concerned about the reasoning given for reductions.

“I take serious question as to the validity of these statements and the assumptions being made for the decrease in parking,” Adams said.

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