South San Francisco officials advanced a new mixed-use development proposal at the foot of the city’s new Caltrain station which officials are hopeful will help make the transit destination more vibrant.

The South San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously voted in favor of building a 94-unit residential tower proposed over a grocery store at 200 Airport Blvd., according to video of the meeting Thursday, June 20.

Officials approved the seven-story tower planned at the gateway to downtown, despite raising some concerns over the adequacy of the community benefits package offered by the developer.

Ultimately, commission Chair JulieAnn Murphy said she was satisfied with project designed to blend with a neighboring development planned across the street by the same builder.

“I think it is a good project. I’m excited that corner will see some improvement,” she said.

Fairfield Residential is proposing to split the units across the top stories of the building, with the ground floor left open for a potential store, which the developer said could be operated by Green Zebra Grocery, a Portland-based company that touts itself as a healthy, locally-sourced convenience store.

Plans suggest 26 of the units will be studios, 39 units will be one-bedrooms and the rest will be two-bedrooms. The project is adjacent to another seven-story tower also proposed by Fairfield, although the two developments are moving ahead at different rates.

Project plans abut the city’s new train station, which is being relocated to make an easier connection downtown. Officials have said they consider the development an essential step in redeveloping the access point to Grand Avenue.

As part of the benefits package offered as an incentive for approval, the developer agreed to set aside seven of the units for those earning a moderate income, amounting to around $110,000 to $130,000 for family of four.

The builder also agreed to support and contribute to a facilities district which officials are considering proposing to landlords near downtown to finance fixes for congestion and transportation issues. More than $125,000 was also set aside for public art and maintenance of the site, as well as an offer to build some open space which will accommodate shoppers or those passing through the site from the train station. In all, the project is expected to contribute about $5.5 million in community benefits.

Commissioner Alan Wong, though, questioned why the developer elected to set aside the affordable units at a moderate level, suggesting those would remain too expensive for a large segment of the population.

City officials responded by noting most of the affordable units in the development pipeline are reserved for people making less than the moderate area annual income. In an effort to develop a wide range of affordability, officials expressed a desire for these units to be set aside for those earning a little more, but still less than market rate.

For her part, Murphy said she appreciated the broadened level of affordability.

“I think the community development package is good. I’m glad that we are getting some moderate-level units in there,” she said.

Wong also questioned whether the developer would be willing to make a financial contribution even if the community facilities district proposal is not brought to fruition, and the developer expressed a commitment to meet those standards.

Beyond the reservations raised by commissioners, an attorney representing a billboard company raised fears the development would block a nearby sign. The developer said the issue would be resolved privately.

Following the commission’s approval, the project will head onto the City Council for a final decision.

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