San Mateo residents to discuss 'cursed' site

Residents are giving the thumbs down to a proposed project at a San Mateo intersection, a site jokingly referred to by a city planner as “cursed” and that has seen at least five previous projects shot down.

On Wednesday, San Mateo planners, developers and residents from north central neighborhoods will meet to discuss a proposal for the site of a former car dealership at North San Mateo Drive and Peninsula Avenue. The site has only been occupied sporadically for the better part of a decade since former owner Michael Shen’s spectacular downfall from Peninsula businessman to felon.

Shen killed himself and his girlfriend after being convicted of six counts of fraud in February 1999. The fraud charges — each with a maximum sentence of 30 years — were related to alleged shady dealings in a failed attempt to keep his car dealerships afloat after years of business trouble.

The long, narrow site — located in a commercial area that fronts a busy thoroughfare — has made development a hassle. Associate planner Darcy Forsell said this is the sixth attempt to build on the site. The first was attempted in 2001, the second in 2003, three in 2005 and one last year.

Forsell said the current developers, Matteson Realty, has helped its case by reducing the amount of retail on site and eliminating a few units compared to recent 154- and 150- unit proposals.

“They have certainly learned from past issues,” she said. “I think the neighborhood will appreciate something else being there.”

But residents, including Homeowners Association of North Central San Mateo member Joanne Bennett and former Planning Commissioner Bertha Sanchez, say the increase of traffic on site and the loss of retail or commercial space is problematic.

“We are losing the areas where our service industries can go into to,” Sanchez said. “We seem to be pushing those out by opening the window to allow zoning changes for housing.”

Forsell said the city shares Sanchez’ concerns. Car dealerships are major engines for sales tax in cities, Forsell said, and the city has courted car dealers and would like to return the site to that use. Unfortunately, nothing has ever materialized.

“That would certainly be our goal … but we’ve found that the cost of the land is too expensive for an auto dealership.” Forsell said.

The neighborhood meeting begins at 7 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Community Center, 725 Monte Diablo Ave.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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