New redevelopment plans for Burlingame’s former post office imagine offices constructed over shops in an entirely commercial building adjacent to a public plaza, according to a vision presented to city officials.
The Burlingame City Council received its first opportunity Tuesday, Jan. 21, to review the redevelopment proposed by Sares Regis, which took control of the stagnant project last year.
The most recent version of the project proposal marks a departure from previous iterations which included more than 100 housing units mixed with commercial space in the historic downtown building at 220 Park Road.
Officials lauded the new plans, claiming the wholly commercial building would partner better with the adjacent plaza, presented to be a central gathering and entertainment destination, according to video of the meeting.
“That is a town square that I want active all day and in the evening, so if you had housing there, it would be a little more difficult,” said Vice Mayor Ann O’Brien Keighran, while suggesting noise from those in the plaza and smells from nearby restaurants below could be a nuisance for potential residents.
Councilwoman Donna Colson agreed, as did former mayor Cathy Baylock, who admired the new version of the redevelopment.
“I really appreciate and understand the direction of going toward office,” said Baylock.
Sares Regis, which took over designing the project from real estate magnate Stanley Lo last year, shared no specifics in terms of the amount of office space envisioned for the site. Plans for the redevelopment are expected to be filed next month.
Detailing the company’s reasoning for moving away from building housing at the site, Sares Regis COO David Hopkins blamed the cost of construction associated with redeveloping a site where historic elements must be preserved.
The post office building has been eligible to be listed on a state or national historic register and the city agreed to oversee a preservation covenant to ensure character-defining elements of the building are maintained.
An apartment building would not pencil out financially, said Hopkins, who suggested the only potentially viable residential units would be condominiums which he projected would go to the market at about $2 million.
Faced with only the opportunity to build between 80 and 100 units which would do little to address the housing crisis facing the Peninsula, Hopkins said the company pivoted to constructing a commercial project.
“I don’t think it is solving the affordability problem,” said Hopkins, of the potential condominium development. He balanced that perspective though by noting an office and retail project would obligate the company to pay the city commercial linkage fees, which could be leveraged to address housing affordability elsewhere in Burlingame.
Previous plans called for 128 condominiums, along with nearly 23,000 square feet of retail space and a courtyard tied to a public paseo with about 13,000 square feet of open space for community activities. Officials had envisioned a community amenity similar to Courthouse Square in Redwood City, before the development plans lost momentum.
When Sares Regis announced its selection to take over the project in October, the San Mateo builder expressed a commitment to building condominiums.
The former post office is proximate to parking lot F, where officials are planning to build 132 units of workforce and senior housing, which is also adjacent to parking lot N, where ground should soon break on a new 384-space parking garage.
Councilmembers are also shared their interest for integrating the abutting surface parking lot into open space for the post office project, so long as the lost spaces can be accounted for elsewhere. Hopkins said underground parking in the post office redevelopment would likely be available to the public during nights, weekends and holidays.
Looking ahead, Councilman Ricardo Ortiz said he favored the project gaining some momentum after years of seeing it lay fallow and cordoned off from the public.
“Anything you do will be better than that cyclone fence,” he said.
Mayor Emily Beach, meanwhile, challenged the new developer to construct a landmark destination in downtown Burlingame.
“Build us a legacy,” she said. “Build us one for the ages.”
In other business, councilmembers unanimously agreed to back out of a joint powers authority designed to purchase an apartment building and preserve the units at an affordable rate.
Officials last month agreed to enter an initiative interested in purchasing a local apartment building with between 100 and 150 units. But the California Community Housing Agency, or CalCHA, was outbid in its attempt to purchase the property where units would have been reserved for those making between 60% to 120% of the area median income.
With the opportunity lost, officials expressed their appreciation for the vision but determined it best to disengage from the relationship formed specifically to purchase the land.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” said Councilman Michael Brownrigg.
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