As early as this weekend, visitors to downtown San Carlos may be able to breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to finding a parking spot after a 254-spot garage at the base of the mixed-use development planned for Wheeler Plaza opens to the public.
Originally expected to open at the end of 2017, construction of the two-level garage has been delayed for months as crews worked through modifications to the garage’s power plant, explained Community Development Director Al Savay at the City Council’s Monday meeting.
Savay said projections updated earlier this year estimated the garage would open in mid-August. But by expediting safety inspections, putting the finishing touches on the garage and posting temporary signs with the two-hour limit, city staff and members of the Redwood City Fire Department, which with San Carlos contracts for emergency fire services, were able to move the timeline up a few weeks, said Savay.
Savay is hoping City Manager Jeff Maltbie and the developer, KB Home, are able to negotiate a temporary lease agreement for the garage by the end of this week, which would be the final step before the garage’s opening. Once the entire project is complete, the developer is expected to transfer ownership of the parking structure to the city, according to a staff report.
“We’re just about ready to let folks know that they can park in the parking garage as soon as possible,” said Savay, according to a video of the meeting.
Built on the site formerly featuring the city’s main downtown 187-spot parking lot in an area largely bounded by Walnut Street, San Carlos Avenue and a small section of Laurel Street, the garage is expected to boost the number by 67 spaces. Approved in 2015, the Wheeler Plaza project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and will provide 109 for-sale condominiums and 10,000 square feet of new retail space.
In the weeks after the project’s construction began in April 2017, the loss of the 187 spots drew the ire of downtown visitors and business owners, who expressed concern about the time it took to find a parking space at peak times. Officials responded to the concerns by routing drivers to one of the 50 spots available at a lot at 616 Laurel St. where the Foodville store once stood or the SamTrans parking garage at 1250 San Carlos Ave. while the Wheeler Plaza parking structure was under construction.
In reviewing the developer’s plan to end a lease with SamTrans to use the agency’s garage once the Wheeler Plaza parking structure is open, Councilman Matt Grocott asked if planners had considered extending the lease with SamTrans to give those who have become accustomed to using the garage a chance to adjust to the changes. Grocott also noted temporary road closures on Walnut Street may have discouraged drivers from using the road, and wondered if use of the garage might be limited while the rest of the project is under construction.
Olbert suggested the city explore picking up the cost of the lease with SamTrans from the developer to keep another downtown parking option available while construction on the rest of the project takes shape.
“If it’s not outrageous, I’d certainly be willing to consider doing that,” he said, noting he would like to avoid backups and frustration should construction prevent drivers from using the new garage. “I’d rather they have a place to park.”
The developer is also set to stop providing valet services at the Foodville lot, which Ray Panek, senior vice president of KB Home, said cost between $11,000 and $14,000 a month while the lease with SamTrans for use of the garage cost some $1,400 a month. Councilmembers voiced support for looking into whether keeping the SamTrans garage as an option for downtown visitors when the developer and SamTrans discuss it later this week.
Even with the new garage, Maltbie said city staff would continue to explore ways to make parking available downtown as construction continues.
“We’re going to want to continue to explore every possible option to make every possible space in the downtown area to the public that we can,” he said.
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