Howard Avenue in need of change, city officials say

It’s high time for Howard Avenue — one of the main arteries into the regional shopping mecca of Burlingame Avenue — to live up to its potential, city officials say.

Toward that end, the San Mateo County chapter of the American Institute of Architects on Sept. 30 will be sponsoring a charrette, a brainstorming session and workshop, focusing on how to spruce up the street. Residents, architects, city officials and urban design experts are invitedto help with this goal for what’s being dubbed as SOBA — the South of Burlingame Avenue area.

Ideas garnered at the session will be used when the city looks into creating its Downtown Specific Plan, which would govern development for roughly everything between California Drive, El Camino Real, Oak Grove Avenue and the Burlingame/San Mateo border, in January.

The street is very wide with only a handful of restaurants and retail, so people generally blow through it while driving, Vice Mayor Terry Nagel said. The idea, Nagel said, is to make the street a place where people want to walk, shop and eat.

Howard, home to a handful of retail shops, restaurants and several offices, hasn’t been able to keep up with the vibrant nature of Burlingame Avenue, City Planner Meg Monroe said. Everyone wants to park on Burlingame Avenue, often forgetting about parking lots a block south on Howard, and some businesses have left because there isn’t much foot traffic there, she said.

A study released in May found that more mixed-use buildings would benefit the city, so officials say that might be the way to go for Howard. Mixed-use is still a strong option for a new, revamped Safeway, one of the biggest pieces of the Howard Avenue puzzle.

Nagel said the ideas won’t be put into effect immediately but will be used to determine how to redesign the area as property owners change and businesses come and go.

Narbe Vagharshakian, manager of CIT Sports on Howard Avenue, said it would be a welcome change to see more foot traffic in front of the store. The sporting goods store is near a coffee shop that can sometimes draw shoppers, but Vagharshakian said that if there were more retailers, traffic would likely spill over into his store as people shop at nearby places.

“Howard has potential, we just need to figure out what that is,” Monroe said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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