City returns to downtown plan

The downtown of the future could include mixed-use construction with housing and more retail, a public plaza and better connections with nearby parks and neighborhoods.

Starting this summer, city officials are meeting with downtown stakeholders, including business owners, property managers and nearby residents, to begin updating San Mateo’s Downtown Specific Plan. In the meantime, Community Development Director Bob Beyer is inventorying vacant storefronts and other downtown spaces that could be redeveloped.

He’s also tagging potential housing sites, like the former Blue and White Laundry space on B Street. That inventory could highlight opportunities for more and diverse retail, such as a new music store, more clothing shops, additional restaurants and a public plaza, according to City Councilmember Carole Groom.

“I would like to see housing, with some mixed-use on the ground floor and condos on top,” Groom said. “With the train station and the kind of retail we will have, it would be a built-in clientele.”

Business owners also favor housing and mixed-use projects, as well as the creation of better connections between downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods and Central Park. “We need to address the gateway elements, and the connectivity between the park and downtown,” said Kelly Mitter, executive director of the San Mateo Downtown Association.

The downtown specific plan was last updated in 1994, and much of what the city setout to do in that document has since been accomplished, according to Planning Director Ron Munekawa.

Some of those goals included redeveloping the Main Street garage and building the new Century 12 theater, relocating the train station and developing the sites that now house Walgreen’s and Draeger’s.

“Given that many of the goals have been met, we need to determine what are the new goals, the new focus?” Munekawa said.

One thing city officials hope to do with the new plan is clean up some of the guidelines that have hindered development. A ban on curb-cuts, for example, has made it impossible to build underground parking and discouraged developers from building new housing on the site of the former Ben Franklin Hotel, Beyer said.

After meeting with stakeholders, the city will hold public meetings to take input from all residents before adopting the new plan sometime late next year, Munekawa said.

Merchants to pony up for parking

Details of a new parking assessment for downtown businesses are being worked out and city officials plan to petition merchants to support it starting this fall.

Past studies have predicted that downtown San Mateo will need 1,000 to 1,500 new parking spaces in the coming years, according to Kelly Mitter, executive director of the San Mateo Downtown Association.

As San Mateo plans for its next phase of downtown redevelopment, it’s also preparing to create a new assessment on downtown businesses to raise money for parking and other street improvements.

“We know we’re going to need that parking sooner rather than later,” Mitter said. “The question is, how do we create a mechanism to fund that, and how do we fund street improvements to make this a destination for shoppers and diners?”

From 1950 to 2004, businesses paid into the Central Downtown Improvement District, which raised the money for downtown’s existing parking garages, but that assessment has expired, according to Public Works Director Larry Patterson.

Patterson is working on a financial plan for a new BID structure and said the city will petition businesses in the fall and spring.

Business assessments would be matched by other funding sources, such as parking revenue, redevelopment agency money and grants, according to Mitter.

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