Demolition began this week on a vacant ice skating rink in Belmont a little over a month after the property owner submitted plans to build 48 townhomes on the site. 

Belmont Iceland occupied the site at 815 Old County Road for nearly 60 years before it went out of business in 2016. The building has since sat vacant. 

Lafayette-based Branaugh Development secured a permit to demolish the former rink a couple of months ago and that work began earlier this week, said Community Director Carlos de Melo.   

In July, Branaugh submitted plans to the city to build 48 for-sale townhomes on the site, de Melo said, adding that the city requires 15% of the units in for-sale residential projects — in this case seven townhomes — to be sold at below-market rates to those earning moderate level incomes. The moderate income level is 120% of area median income, with comes out to $99,450 a year for an individual or $142,100 a year for a family of four. 

De Melo said staff is still reviewing the application and did not provide any additional details about the project or when it might be the subject of a public hearing. 

Councilman Charles Stone said the location, just a few blocks from the Caltrain station, would be perfect for much-needed housing. 

“The entire Bay Area, including the Peninsula, San Mateo County and Belmont, is in dire need of more housing and there’s no better place for it than along existing transit corridors,” he said. 

Stone also noted that proposals like this often change as they wind their way through the city’s entitlement process.

“I’m encouraged anytime I see interest in building transit-oriented developments in Belmont, but projects like this one often change quite a bit by the time they get to a City Council,” he said. “I look forward to learning more about this project in the coming months and hearing input from our excellent staff, fantastic Planning Commission as well as members of the public and my colleagues on the council.”

While Belmont Iceland has not been an operable ice rink since 2016, the ice skating community is sad to see the window close on any chance of it reopening. 

“The group is very disappointed in the outcome, both with the developer and the city,” said Sarah Feldman, president of the Silicon Valley Ice Skating Association. “Demolition of the Belmont rink is proof no ice rink is safe. We’re keeping a watchful eye and the Belmont ice skating community is not going away.”

Feldman said she hopes some piece of the former rink is preserved by the Belmont Historic Society because of the facility’s impact on the sport internationally. 

“It’s had such an impact even internationally because it spurred so many Olympians, including Brian Boitano and Peggy Fleming,” she said.

Mayor Davina Hurt said many miss Belmont Iceland, but saving it was outside of the city’s control.

“Like the rest of the community I’m sad that something that was such an important landmark in the city left, but it was privately owned and we can’t force people to be in certain industries,” she said, adding that before the rink shut down it was in need of costly repairs that the former owner was not interested in paying for. 

Stone echoed the mayor and offered additional context behind the demolition.

Stone said everyone misses the ice rink but saving it was outside of the city’s control. 

“A private property owner discontinued the Iceland business and sold the property to a willing buyer several years ago and the new property owner came forward and complied with the applicable rules to demolish,” he said. “Everyone misses the rink, I know I do, and my kids skated there when we were little and it was important part of us creating community bond. But the market didn’t support it and nobody came forward with viable plans.”

Stone suggested alternative properties, including the site formerly home to Orchard Supply Hardware in San Carlos, would be suitable for an ice rink. Hurt suggested a partnership could be formed to bring a seasonal ice rink to the city or somewhere nearby.   

The city briefly considered including an ice rink in a future remodel of the Barrett recreation center, but that particular amenity did not garner sufficient support in community surveys and in stakeholder meetings.

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(3) comments


The transaction chain for the sale of Belmont Iceland was as follows: East Bay Iceland sold it to MMA Belmont. MMA Belmont sold it the same day to Sapient Real Estate. Sapient Real Estate Development, at such time, was registered to the home address in Orinda of Emily (Wang) and Malcolm Fairbairn. Malcolm Fairbairn is an executive at Ascend Capital, a private equity firm in San Francisco.

Here is an SEC Admin Proceeding from 2003, brought against Ascend Capital and the Fairbairns. From the SEC document (link below) -- "Ascend and the Fairbairns willfully violated Section 10(a) of the Exchange Act, which prohibits effecting "a short sale ... of any security registered on a national securities exchange, in contravention of the rules and regulations as the Commission may prescribe as necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.""

Glad to know this all worked out for them.


The "market didn't support it" is a bit disingenuous. Hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in hedge funds and developers move in the Bay Area today increasingly focused on real estate. Private citizens cannot compete for resources in such an economic system. So the citizens' views on what they want etc. mean less, as private (and public!) money in the hands of hedge funds and developers create the landscape that they want. Oddly, some hedge funds in the Bay Area are actually being funded with public funds, via the Small Business Admin.


In the long run, Peninsula families will conclude they would have rather had the ice rink rather than more townhomes. One of the reasons for the sale of the rink by its former owner is simply the ammonia rules put in place by the State of California, which made it -- in this case -- unbearably or unwillingly cost prohibitive to run the rink. The window to operate ammonia-based rinks is closing, per the CA rules, and the retrofit costs are enormous. So a hedge fund -- NOT a group of citizens -- stepped in to drive an economic wedge into your children's future. Having ice skated at Belmont Iceland in the 1970s and early 1980s as a child, I can attest to absolutely no impact on my life from ammonium exposure at the rink. My Mom and Dad sat at Belmont Iceland for years, watching me skate. My Mom is 89 and never suffered once from ammonium exposure. I find it disingenuous for people to talk about "need more housing" etc. In the next decades, citizens of the peninsula will see PG&E, water and other expenses skyrocket. It won't matter if you tear down every property in Hillsborough and replace them all with low income housing. It won't help. Insurance rates will (already are) increase, given traffic and incidents (fire and other insurance too) and impact of overcrowding on resources and infrastructure. And many other repercussions to unabated housing and never-ending blockage of views of our beautiful mountains etc. along El Camino and elsewhere. The cost and psychological impacts to citizens will outweigh "another available townhome" in the long run. So this story is really just a "chalk up another win" for hedge funds and developers.

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