The South San Francisco city council unanimously approved the El Camino Real/Chestnut Avenue Area General Plan Amendment at Wednesday evening’s city council meeting.
Several South City residents turned out for Wednesday’s meeting, all of whom were on hand to discuss the proposed El Camino Real/Chestnut Avenue Area Plan, and support for the project was overwhelming from city council, as well as community members in attendance.
“There is such a potential for growth with this project,” said Vice Mayor Richard Garbarino, who was originally skeptical concerning the plan after initial proposals. “I wasn’t aware of all of the opportunities for potential growth originally, but this is a good project for the city and I’m excited about it.”
The Planning Commission brought clarity to an issue that had Garbarino and a number of community members up in arms. The project was thought to have possibly incorporated 160-foot buildings in the South City community, but that number was clarified Wednesday night. Instead, buildings will be subject to a maximum height of 80 feet with the opportunity to ascend to 120 feet with council approval.
The long-term project is set to expand a number of Kaiser Permanente parcels within the 98-acre planning area. Fourteen of those acres are owned by the city.
However, those attending the meeting seemed to be chiefly concerned with other aspects of the development outside of Kaiser expansion.
The running theme at Wednesday’s meeting was the implementation of a new library on the El Camino corridor, and a majority of community members focused their input on support for a new city library.
City council members also favored the new library, but acknowledged that a realistic approach must be taken towards the construction of the library, especially from a financial standpoint.
“I support the idea of a new library that was mentioned so often this evening, but we’re talking about what could be a $50 million library,” said South City Mayor Kevin Mullin. “We don’t have $50 million.”
South City residents also advocated plans for new biking and walking paths, park expansion, as well as new dining and shopping options.
The meeting did become a bit chippy prior to the public comments portion of the evening. Long-time South City resident Cory David spoke out from the rear of the room, asking the council if those in attendance would be able to have a running dialogue with the council or be allowed to speak for three minutes, the normal time allotment for each public speaker.
When informed that the normal time allotment for each public speaker would remain at three minutes without a running dialogue, David expressed his frustration, which carried over into his comments.
David proposed the city residents should be able to vote on the rezoning in an upcoming election, calling the project “over the top” and commenting that it should not be the council’s decision.
However, David was among the minority, as the project received overwhelming support from others in attendance.
Despite the overwhelming support for the new development, the meeting’s more pressing issue was the height of proposed buildings that would be added to South City during the development.
City council members expressed significant concern regarding correct placement of such proposed structures, as well as the stature of the structures.
“I’ve driven to Daly City from South San Francisco down El Camino Real several times and I don’t see anything more than four or five stories high,” Garbarino said. “So, I’m not sure why we’re talking about 10 or 12 stories high. That’s not consistent.”
Both Garbarino and city council member Pedro Gonzalez acknowledged that they examined buildings in other cities, some well over 80 feet, and agreed that such lofty structures do not have a place in South City.
Anything over 80 feet, Gonzalez believes, the public must endorse.
“If someone wants to build something over 80 feet, the public has to say something about it,” Gonzalez said. “They have to approve it.”
Council member Karyl Matsumoto did present the fact that shorter buildings could possibly result in a larger number of buildings, simply positioned next to each other.
But Mullin and the council, each of which agreed that “a certain amount of flexibility” must be included in this process, decided that 80 feet should be the current maximum.
“The overall height issue, we clearly have to be sensitive to,” Mullin said. “I can swallow 80 feet, but I’m going to have a hard time swallowing 120 feet.”