Development, open space square off in San Mateo

Two sides of the nearly 18-year battle over the San Mateo Highlands are expected to face off today as county supervisors discuss whether to change the zoning regulations of almost a dozen acres of open space.

In a vote that may have countywide implications, supervisors will also decide whether to pass an amendment to the county’s general plan requiring owners of land with low-density zoning to give up a portion of their lot as open space as a requirement for subdividing the land.

The amendment would affect about 200 property owners, mostly in the Skyline area near the Santa Cruz Mountains, San Mateo County Supervisor Mark Church said. If passed, the amendment would bring all of San Mateo County in line with the zoning requirements of its coastal areas.

At the center of today’s meeting is an 11.78-acre corner of land that is zoned for only two homes. For the last 17 years, the land has been part of a 99-acre parcel owned by developer The Chamberlain Group. While the developer has filed an application to build a limited number of homes on the bulk of its parcel, it hasn’t revealed future plans for the dozen acres. Neighbors fear the land could someday be heavily developed if The Chamberlain Group applies to change the zoning.

The county’s rezoning of the 11.78 acres would enforce the same building restrictions throughout the entire 99-acre parcel and prevent the developer from seeking greater freedom to build, Church said.

Additionally, the amendment to the general plan would require The Chamberlain Group — and other owners of similarly zoned land — to dedicate open space as an exchange for subdividing the acreage. The size of the easement would depend of many factors, including the size and ecological sensitivity of the lot.

Cary Weist, president of the San Mateo Highlands Community Association, said passing the amendment would close a loophole that would allow developers to withhold plans from neighbors while planning future high-density housing.

“What we’re saying is, ‘Show us what you’re going to develop now. Disclose it,’” Weist said.

But David Byer, attorney for The Chamberlain Group, said both the rezoning and amendment to the general plan are unnecessary. The Chamberlain Group has no current plans to develop the dozen acres, he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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