The San Mateo Planning Commission offered an open-minded response to a developer’s proposal to replace an aging office park with 190 housing units near the intersection of State Route 92 and Highway 101.
The Waters Office Park redevelopment would transform the 11-acre site currently housing nearly 100,000 square feet of two-story office space into a mix of single- and multi-family homes. The Planning Commission this week hosted a study session on Strada Investment Group’s proposal and expressed interest in the prospect of turning the 1970s office park into homes.
“This is a unique opportunity,” said Commission Chair John Ebneter, according to a video of the meeting. “I generally like the site layout, I think you’re getting a lot of product into a relatively small area.”
Strada is riding its proposal on the region’s increasing demand for more homes and a preliminary review that housing would generate less traffic than the current office park.
“It is a very unique opportunity to fulfill the twin and often competing goals of more housing and less traffic and I think the opportunity to take a small step toward rebalancing the jobs-housing imbalance in the Peninsula is something I think the policy makers and the city of San Mateo have really responded to,” Strada co-founder Michael Cohen said after the meeting.
The site is nestled between another office park to the north, Highway 101 to the west, and the Lakeshore neighborhood wrapping around the eastern and southern side of the lot. Strada’s proposal includes 28 two-story lower-density single-family homes lining the southern side of the site to serve as a buffer to the existing neighborhood. A center block would host 102 attached units in several four-story buildings. On the northern segment, 60 three-story townhomes would line the property near the neighboring office park. The 162 multi-family residences would include two- and three-bedroom units in townhomes and row homes ranging from three- to four-stories tall, according to Strada’s plans
The plans include 418 parking spaces and also call for a dog park and a new publicly accessible trail along Borel Creek to the north.
Commissioners said they generally supported the concept of amending the site’s zoning to allow for housing, with some suggesting enhancements to the proposed ingress and egress laid out in the plans. Commissioners also hoped Strada’s proposal to create a publicly accessible trail along the creek would improve the existing waterway and provide opportunities for the surrounding neighborhood.
Only a few residents spoke during the meeting, with a general support for the concept but some expressing concerns about already problematic traffic in the area. The Highway 101 and State Route 92 intersection is frequently congested, particularly during commute hours as workers across the Peninsula funnel onto the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge to head east going home.
Though the Waters Office Park site is not transit oriented, Strada has noted a Caltrain shuttle stops there carrying passengers to the rail station and it will try to work with the transit agency to enhance service. The developer has also proposed an improved pickup and dropoff area in consideration of the increasing popularity of ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft.
Commissioner Charlie Drechsler said he hopes the community recognizes this rare opportunity to replace office with housing has the potential to reduce traffic. Still, a robust transportation-demand management plan will be key, he said during the meeting.
“Being respectful and mindful of the established neighborhood is critical,” Drechsler said. “I hope we can, as angry as we are about the traffic, embrace the fact that this is truly going to reduce traffic.”
Commissioner Dianne Whitaker, while open to the prospect of replacing office with housing, said she remains concerned about the layout of the project. Currently, the plans outline one main entrance into the site with a single street wrapping around a center block. One public speaker expressed concerns about the ability for future residents to exit the neighborhood during a fire or disaster. Whitaker and a few other commissioners also suggested widening the entrance off Norfolk Street to allow vehicles to more easily turn around without having to drive around the block.
“My initially reaction when I opened the site plans was it’s very bland. It’s efficient, but it’s not a creative solution,” Whitaker said, while noting it’s not often the city receives proposals to replace office space with housing.
Commissioner Pamela O’Leary said she would actually like to see a denser project that could provide more units to help address the housing crisis. Staff noted the current proposal suggests about 17 units per acre, which is below the allowable density should the site be rezoned to medium-density residential.
Still in the preliminary stages, Strada and planners agreed to host another study session on the plans before formal applications and decisions are made.
Cohen, whose company bought the site in April for $46.2 million, according to county records, said the developer will continue to design a project that addresses commissioners’ and the public’s concerns.
“Based on the feedback we got from the Planning Commission,” Cohen said after the meeting, “we are extremely confident that we’ll be able to build a project that the city of San Mateo will be proud of.”
Visit the What’s Happening in Development page at cityofsanmateo.org for more information.
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