Blighted lots may soon become treasure for city

The bleak corner of Chestnut Avenue and El Camino Real — the geographical heart of the city — may be transformed into a bustling center with possible transit-oriented housing, a skate park and a city library.

In recent deals worth $27 million, the city has amassed more than 16 acres of land on the east side of El Camino Real that extend from Chestnut Avenue to the South San Francisco BART station. At a meeting tonight, City Council members and planning commissioners will discuss the fate of the land, which for years had been plagued by rundown businesses such as an abandoned gas station.

“It’s an important corridor,” said Marty Van Duyn, the city’s director of Economic and Community Development. “It’s had its ups and downs, and never met its expectations either for quality or intensity. The council would be better served by owning it as opposed to having developers come in.”

The city purchased the land through redevelopment funds from a $55 million bond measure in 2006.

South City development officials are closing in on a $20 million deal for 14 acres of landalong El Camino Real from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission as well as buying a $6 million building at 1 Chestnut Ave. from Ron Price Motors.

In December, the city bought parcels that total to approximately an acre at 80 Chestnut Ave. from the Westborough Water District under the jurisdiction of South San Francisco and is now considering buying five more acres. With the 5 acres included, the total amassed land would extend from Kaiser Permanente on El Camino Real to Orange Memorial Park, city officials said.

But the question remains: What will the city do with the massive land holdings? Council member Karyl Matsumoto would like to use the land for a skate park and a new library, neither of which would bring in any money for the city she said. Council member Richard Garborino, on the other hand, said the area is ideal for a mixed-use transit-oriented development similar to the Solaire transit village farther down El Camino Real.

South San Francisco Mayor Pedro Gonzalez said he wants to commercialize the area to beautify El Camino Real and bring in more sales tax revenue into the city.

“It’son El Camino Real, and right now all the cities are trying to enhance and give better looks to one of the main arteries of the county,” he said. “We are trying to eliminate the blight sights, and that’s one of the main projects in the future.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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