The possible donation of a 7,000-square-foot home with carefully maintained grounds to San Mateo was met with enthusiasm this week by city officials, who were buoyed by the potential for the property to be made available to the public for events.
As the owner of the property at 40 Baywood Ave., Thelma Lilienthal approached city officials indicating interest in donating two parcels totaling 3.24 acres to the city along with an $8 million endowment to support upkeep of the property, said Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum at the City Council’s Monday meeting.
Containing a koi pond and several mature trees, the grounds surrounding the home are largely included in the larger of the two parcels, which is situated in San Mateo. The other parcel, which includes the main house, is located in Hillsborough, she said.
In weighing whether the city should proceed with negotiations for the donation, Councilman Eric Rodriguez was joined by his fellow councilmembers in voicing support for continuing negotiations with Lilienthal with the goal of preserving the unique property for public use. Having spoken with Lilienthal and visited the property, Rodriguez said Lilienthal expressed a desire to share with others what she has been so lucky to experience in her lifetime. Councilman Joe Goethals was absent from the meeting.
“She wants to make sure that everybody in the region gets to experience that,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we’re extremely, extremely lucky.”
Home to a large baywood laurel tree, a redwood grove and several mature oak trees, the property includes a newly renovated koi pond and limited on-site parking, explained Kleinbaum. According to a staff report, the Victorian-style house was built in 1899 and contains a large open living and dining area, two kitchens and seven bedrooms on the upper level. The property could be used as a venue for conferences, retreats and weddings, among other events, according to the report.
If the city were to accept the donation, Kleinbaum noted renovations would be needed to meet ADA requirements and upgrade restrooms, adding parking would likely need to be accommodated at nearby garages or by valet parking.
Several neighbors of the property stepped forward with admiration for Lilienthal’s care for the property and hopes it can be preserved for the public. Having shared a property line with Lilienthal for some 35 years, Laurence Wilson described Lilienthal’s property as a unique resource with wildlife and serenity and encouraged officials to listen very closely to the Lilienthal’s wishes for the property as they considered the donation.
“If that large endowment is used to maintain the property, with the beauty that it’s got, this could become a crown jewel,” he said. “This may be one of the last small oases that you can set aside in perpetuity for this community.”
Hillsborough Mayor Shawn Christianson also acknowledged the generosity of the proposed donation, and asked San Mateo officials to consider collaborating with Hillsborough officials and residents as they explore next steps.
“I want to request that you explore the possible of a collaborative process with Hillsborough since whatever your decisions you make or direction you provide will impact many Hillsborough neighbors very directly,” she said.
As Lilienthal’s trustee, Anne Lassahn said Lilienthal’s greatest wish is to preserve the property and not have it developed, and expected her client to be open to talking with Hillsborough officials and residents about the donation if San Mateo officials are open to it. Lassahn said Lilienthal has indicated she would like Lassahn to remain a trustee of the funds and noted she herself is invested in both cities as a Hillsborough resident and the owner of a building in San Mateo.
“Mrs. Lilienthal absolutely wants to be cohesive with all of her neighbors and also with both towns,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Maureen Freschet was joined by Rodriguez, Mayor Diane Papan and Councilman Rick Bonilla in expressing interest in collaborating with Hillsborough on making sure any concerns Hillsborough residents might have are discussed. But Freschet wasn’t convinced there was a way the cities could share the property given Lilienthal’s wishes it go to San Mateo. Freschet said she had an opportunity to meet Lilienthal and expressed gratitude to her for considering entrusting San Mateo with her property.
“She’s an amazing woman, I am very grateful to her for wanting to give this to San Mateo,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful asset and amenity for our city.”
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