Faced by an audience split with strong opinions over a proposal to construct more than 800 units on public land, South San Francisco officials elected to choose a builder for the site abutting El Camino Real.
The South San Francisco City Council approved picking AGI/KASA Partners to construct a mixed-use development near where Westborough Boulevard turns into Chestnut Avenue just west of downtown, according to video of the meeting Wednesday, May 2.
Under the decision, officials will enter an exclusive negotiating agreement with the builder in an effort to design a project which officials claim will balance the need for more housing and the concerns of development critics.
AGI/ KASA Partners’ initial proposal was comprised of 812 units, with 162 affordable units to be built by Bridge Housing in a standalone building. The largest building proposed would not exceed eight stories. Plans also include 5,500 square feet of child care space, 7 acres of park land, 13,000 square feet of space reserved for artisanal merchants such as coffee roasters, breweries and other independent businesses. Officials have noted though the final development may not reach the size and scope of the initial vision.
Councilman Pradeep Gupta said his faith the developer’s willingness to balance residents’ perspectives persuaded his decision to favor their offer.
“I wanted a team that could work with that kind of environment and get to a productive project not just for the city or developer but for the community,” he said.
The site has been the focus of much contention following an initial discussion of the property in late March, when many residents expressed ardent opposition to a proposal to build dense housing on the site purchased with former redevelopment agency funds.
In response, housing advocates followed up with claims that constructing new units at the site near the South San Francisco BART station would capitalize on a prime opportunity to build more transit-oriented development.
In recognition of the divergent views on the site, Councilman Mark Addiego acknowledged the valid perspectives of both parties who combined for nearly two hours of public discussion of the matter during the meeting.
Ultimately though, he shared his justification for voting in favor of development under the city’s need to address the regional imbalance of jobs and housing.
“I know you’d prefer nothing, but most of you understand something has got to occur there because we have an obligation to welcome people when we are seeing this kind of success,” he said, in reference to the thriving biotechnology job center east of Highway 101.
The pro-growth sect pointed to the Bayshore area in their calls for new housing, saying the attractive opportunities provided in the life sciences industry are pushing up the local home values and driving displacement.
The California Life Sciences Association, a lobbying arm for the city’s biotech titans, sent officials a letter advocating for housing development at the property under consideration, which drew Addiego’s ire.
The group recently pushed back against a proposal to build nearly 1,200 units near Oyster Point, claiming the project would limit growth in the city’s prize industry.
“The hypocrisy is blowing me away,” said Addiego, noting the mixed messages sent by the association regarding development in South San Francisco.
As a consolation to the three other building firms passed over by the City Council, Addiego encouraged them to consider looking to the east side of Highway 101 for housing development opportunities.
Other finalists included SummerHill Homes, which offered as many as 755 units; Republic Metropolitan, which was offering as many as 639 units; and Blake Griggs, which offered as many as 847 units.
The Blake Griggs proposal drew the most criticism from residents, as some project iterations included towers reaching 12 stories, which many community members considered far too large and dense for South San Francisco.
Many development critics urged officials to scale back the project to a three-story maximum and seek more community amenities rather than additional units.
“Please consider how this development will affect my neighbors and me,” said resident Mari Avila-Suarez. “We don’t want another San Francisco. Also, we shouldn’t accept overdevelopment in our neighborhood. The design we select should fit the neighborhood’s character.”
Her sentiment echoed the perspective of many residents who said the project is too large for its surroundings, potentially compounding the impacts of ongoing construction throughout the city.
For her part, Mayor Liza Normandy said she favored development at the site but pledged a final commitment to addressing the concerns from residents regarding the size and scope of the project.
“There will be no high rises,” she said.
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