Whether the developer behind a four-story office and residential building to replace a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and three industrial buildings at 406 E. Third Ave. will provide sufficient parking and consider including ground-floor retail and more housing were focuses for members of the San Mateo Planning Commission Tuesday.
Situated next to a four-story mixed-use building under construction at 405 E. Fourth Ave. between South Claremont Street and South Railroad Avenue, the project’s location on the eastern edge of San Mateo’s downtown spurred discussions of its fit with downtown uses and architecture.
In reviewing a pre-application to provide 16 studios and seven one-bedroom units on the top, fourth floor of a more than 120,000-square-foot office building with two levels of underground parking, commissioners weighed how the project could meet tenants’ and downtown visitors’ need for parking in a well trafficked area.
Though 294 parking spots are required for the project, the developer, Windy Hill Property Ventures, offered two parking options — providing 176 parking spots in the underground garage and pay in-lieu fees to cover the remaining 118 spots required or provide all of the 294 parking spots on site with 86 standard spaces and use of a mechanical parking device for the remaining spots.
Michael Field, a representative of Windy Hill, noted his preference would be to make 176 spaces available on the site and pay in-lieu fees to offer more parking to downtown visitors after business hours and on weekends than he would be able to with mechanized lifts or other parking devices, spots he said would likely be reserved for the building’s tenants. City planner Brittni Baron explained the option to pay in-lieu fees for parking is subject to availability, and a survey of the utilization of downtown parking facilities to be conducted in the fall may shed light on whether paying in-lieu fees is a viable option for the developer at more advanced stages of the planning process.
Acknowledging the city’s study would provide clarity as to what options the developer has in meeting the parking requirement, Chair John Ebneter asked the developer how the two options might compare financially.
“Parking does seem to be somewhat of an elusive issue here,” he said.
Though Field said building a mix of standard and mechanized spaces could be more cost-effective, he noted the construction of a mechanical device could require the developer to create additional underground parking levels and would reduce its ability to provide public spaces when employees are not there — a resource he said community members have supported.
“Having the parking stalls available to the public provides a lot of reassurance to folks that they’re getting something out of what they’re putting up with here,” he said.
Though Vice Chair Mike Ethridge and Commissioners Ramiro Maldonado and Ellen Mallory-Ulrich favored asking the developer to pay in-lieu parking fees, Commissioner Dianne Whitaker said she favored making the spots available on site through a mechanical device as opposed to collecting in-lieu fees for a future project. In her experience as a commissioner, Whitaker said she couldn’t recall a project that had leveraged parking in-lieu fees, noting the project would replace parking available at the KFC restaurant and three industrial buildings.
“We keep dumping money into that fund and I have yet to see anything result from it,” she said.
Whitaker was joined by Dino Antoniazzi, whose father owns two buildings on the same block as the project, in advocating for the developer to include ground-floor retail in the project so the small businesses along East Third Avenue are connected to the downtown. The project does not include the buildings where restaurants Saigon City and Fuji Sukiyaki currently stand.
As one of the gateways into San Mateo’s downtown, the location of the project warranted a stronger design with a transition between the retail businesses on East Third Avenue to the downtown, said Antoniazzi.
“I think this one falls short of what is possible to do on this site,” he said. “I think it lacks cohesion to me, and I think the building is a little too modern for this location.”
Though the main entrance to the garage would be shared with the 65,625-square-foot, four-story office and residential building at 405 E. Fourth Ave. on South Claremont Street, Antoniazzi was among the residents and commissioners who expressed concerns about pedestrian safety and congestion near another garage entrance planned for East Third Avenue. Field explained the East Third Avenue entrance would only allow cars turning right to enter and exit the garage, and that he has been discussing with the city’s Public Works Department ways to prevent drivers from turning left into the garage, such as building a median.
To make three units affordable at a very low level in the project, the developer is planning to use the state density bonus and request an exemption to the city’s density maximum. Maldonado and Ebneter asked the developer whether more residential units could be included in the project, and Field said because the rents of residences are typically lower than offices, the amount of space dedicated to office space in the current project makes it financially viable.
Though Maldonado joined Mallory-Ulrich and Ethridge in commending the project’s modern design, he suggested the developer consider making more open space or natural settings available in the project.
“I do like the modern design, however, I do feel that there should be more open spaces … or places for an individual to sit and enjoy the outside,” he said.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106