Residents of unincorporated North Fair Oaks may see a 90-unit elderly care facility go up on six parcels where John Bentley’s Restaurant formerly operated if a proposal submitted by Sunrise Senior Living continues to gain traction with county planners and the surrounding neighborhood.

How the two- to three-story building capable of housing up to 127 elderly residents might affect those in the Selby Park neighborhood as well as passage through an alleyway bisecting the parcels were a focus for community members when the North Fair Oaks Community Council reviewed the plans in March.

By replacing the building where the restaurant formerly operated, two surface parking lots and an office building facing El Camino Real just north of East Selby Lane with the senior care facility designed for those in need of assisted living, Sunrise Senior Living could fill the demand for senior care on the Peninsula, said company representative Jerry Liang.

“What we’re really offering to the broader community is a really critically needed service for folks who live in this area who ultimately will have this particular need if not for themselves then for their loved ones,” he said, according to a video of the March 22 meeting.

What is envisioned is a 63-space underground parking garage, orienting car traffic to use a driveway onto El Camino Real and the building’s entrance on East Selby Lane and placing the three-story elements of the building along El Camino Real with quiet uses such as a garden toward the back of the property adjacent to residences. In doing so, the building’s design is aimed at reducing its impacts on the surrounding area, said Liang.

Running through the middle of the project is a 267-foot portion of alley extending from East Selby Lane and dead-ending at an adjacent property. Because the project would require the county to abandon a public sewer easement it has underneath the surface of the alley — one of three segments of an alley parallel to El Camino Real that runs through East Selby Lane and Columbia Avenue and ends at Fifth Avenue — the change sparked a concern among some Selby Park residents and councilmembers that the project could affect passage through the neighborhood on the alley leading to Fifth Avenue.

Community Council Chair Everardo Rodriguez noted the neighborhood’s physical separation from community resources on the eastern side of the Caltrain tracks and said alleys like the one bisecting the property can provide pedestrians an alternative to walking along busy roads.

“Our community here in North Fair Oaks, it is physically divided by the train tracks so the people who live near where the Sunrise development are going to be have no way of coming across, say, to this community center without going all the way around to Fifth Avenue or Woodside,” he said. “A lot of mothers with strollers or pedestrians in general, they normally utilize any alleyways, any shortcuts so they can avoid … going all the way around.”

Assistant County Manager Mike Callagy said the county’s easement does not extend to the surface of the alley, and noted it’s up to the property owner of the alley to determine whether to allow passage. Acknowledging the developer has assured the community it will allow passage through the stretch of the alley running through its property, Councilwoman Linda Lopez asked county officials if their vacating the easement on this stretch of the alley set a precedent for other stretches of it.

Though officials said they did not think the easement change for this project would have an impact on other decisions related to the alley, they received a recommendation from the council to take residents’ use of the alley into consideration in the future.

In response to Councilwoman Rosario Gonzalez’s question about where employees of the facility would park, Liang said the some 100 employees expected to work there would work three shifts to provide service 24 hours a day and should be able to park in the underground garage. He added that with an average age of 85, most residents of the facility don’t use cars and that the spaces should accommodate their visitors.

When Yesenia Mendez, the council’s youth member, asked if the facility would hire employees able to speak multiple languages, Liang said the company does not require employees to speak additional languages but that its workforce usually represents the community where its facilities are based. Mendez expressed support for the project, which she said could help families and elderly residents in need of assisted living.

“I think it acknowledges that age group that is kind of ignored,” she said. “I think it’s really nice that there is this facility that they can come to.”

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