How a proposal to build a four- and five-story mixed-use building at the Trag’s Market site at 303 Baldwin Ave. will affect traffic and fit in with downtown San Mateo topped concerns of residents and officials at a Tuesday Planning Commission study session.
Located across North B Street from the downtown San Mateo Caltrain station, the project to build an estimated 60,664 square feet of office and 19,952 square feet of commercial and retail space alongside 64 housing units is aimed at making use of its proximity to a major city transit hub.
But whether the developer’s plans, which had been revised since the Planning Commission first reviewed them in September, adequately addressed concerns about its compatibility with nearby buildings, some of which are historical, was up for additional review by the Planning Commission Tuesday.
Acknowledging the efforts of Prometheus Real Estate Group, the developer, to incorporate darker tones and materials and consider other examples of downtown architecture, Commissioner Pamela O’Leary joined other officials and residents in asking the developer to provide a better transition between one-story businesses on North B Street, nearby homes and downtown.
“In terms of the design, it looks beautiful. I like it, but I don’t know if it’s the right fit for transitioning within the area,” she said, according to a video of the meeting. “While I think Burlingame is beautiful and Palo Alto’s downtown is beautiful, San Mateo’s has always been different and I always want it to be different.”
Slated to become the developer’s headquarters, the building is expected to provide ground-floor retail space and office space on the second through fourth floors and residential units on the north side of the building. Though residents and commissioners agreed the revised plans were an improvement on the preliminary set proposed last year, they urged the developer to consider additional details, such as ornamental designs where the exterior meets the building’s roof as well as exterior lighting, to either soften modern elements or break up stark columns.
Though the developer’s exploration of a parklet with a steel planter, tables and wooden bench on North B Street near Baldwin Avenue was met with enthusiasm, it also sparked a discussion of how open spaces could be incorporated in the project as well as the downtown. Vice Chair Charlie Drechsler asked if the developer would be amenable to exploring a resident’s suggestion to shut down a stretch of Baldwin Avenue between North Ellsworth Avenue and North B Street to car traffic.
Though Jonathan Stone, a representative of Prometheus, said the developer would have to study the possibility of a pedestrian plaza just south of the project, but how such a change to the street would affect retailers would also be considered.
“Retail’s a really important part of this project, not just for the community but for the viability of the project as well the feasibility, and getting the energy in the property that we would like to see ultimately,” he said.
In response to several residents’ concerns about an uptick in traffic near the downtown Caltrain station across the street from the project, Planning and Public Works staff said a crosswalk near the intersection of North B Street and Transit Center Way would be studied as the plans progress, adding that several downtown intersections would be analyzed as a downtown planning process takes shape.
While O’Leary expressed concerns the 260 car spots included in the underground parking garage for the project may not be adequate for building tenants, Stone said the developer has been studying parking trends in hundreds of other projects across the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest to ensure there were enough spots available. Stone added the developer would also consider making some of the spots available to the public after business hours in response to an inquiry from Commissioner Mike Etheridge.
With a suggestion the developer consider an open-air shopping space on the ground floor, Chair John Ebneter noted the project’s potential to become a place where residents come to spend time instead of grab a coffee to go.
“This building has the potential to be a landmark,” he said. “It will be a destination spot, it won’t just be another office building.”
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