Key spots cited for San Carlos’ growth

Plans are brewing for three spots downtown that have been identified by city officials as key to a thriving future for the shopping district.

Developers have long been sniffing around Wheeler Plaza, bounded by Laurel Street, San Carlos Avenue and Walnut Street, but interest has recently cranked up for the property, which includes some apartments, retail and a city-owned parking lot, according to Economic Development Director Brian Moura.

Likewise, the city is fielding calls from developers and grocery store chains hoping to move in on the vacant Bell Market store location, next to another city-owned lot, on the 800 block of Laurel Street.

The Economic Development Advisory Committee this spring identified both sites as economic heavyweights that, if developed, could contribute to downtown’s long-term fiscal health. However, the City Council voted to put off studying the sites until August, which hasn’t quelled developer interest.

“In talking to folks, we’ve had a variety of different proposals,” Moura said. “Some grocers are looking at Bell Market, while others are looking at that site, and Wheeler Plaza, as mixed-use with retail and housing.”

No formal proposals have been submitted to the city, and developers are only asking questions behind the scenes for now.

However, a third downtown mixed-use proposal, in which the San Mateo County Department of Transportation plans to develop a strip of land it owns by the Caltrain corridor, has been resubmitted to the city, according to Jesse Couch, with developers Legacy Partners.

A formal application is still two months away, but designs call for 280 housing units and 30,000 square feet of office and retail, the latter of which would surround the historic train depot, Couch said. All of the housing would be located to the north of the depot.

None of the buildings would exceed the 50-foot height limit, which Legacy hopes will allay Laureola Neighborhood residents’ fears that the buildings would wall them off from downtown.

Chamber of Commerce President Sheryl Pomerenk called the SamTrans plans “outstanding,” and said business owners near the Bell Market site are eager for someone new to move in. Earlier this year, San Carlos took emergency action to block a 99-cent type store from leasing the space.

However, before any downtown development can go forward, “we first need to get the council’s green light that this is something they want us to look at,” Moura said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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