San Carlos NIMBYs still fear long-planned TOD at Caltrain station
- Published Wednesday, January 20, 2010, by the San Mateo Daily Journal
Transit village on way
By Michelle Durand
A plan to transform the currently underwhelming gateway of San Carlos into a transit-oriented village is a fantastic idea, even according to the group of residents who say the proposed multi-story towers of housing and retail will burden them with shadows, noise and parking problems.
Aside from the historic Train Depot marking the Caltrain station, the area of El Camino Real and San Carlos Avenue offers little but dirt, broken sidewalks and nothing that wows those entering the city, both officials and residents agree.
The problem, though, is just how to develop the area in a way that is a win for those on both sides of the proposed project, said Ben Fuller, president of the Greater East San Carlos neighborhood group <http://webjam.com/gesc>.
"It is a really good project for everyone else," Fuller said. "It is an awful project for us. Eighty percent of the project's impacts are toward us."
Fuller's comments -- as well as those from all San Carlos residents -- are being culled now during a 47-day comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Review for the proposed San Carlos Transit Village.
As Community Development Director Al Savay said, the process is early and "there's a lot of work to do." Whether that work includes negotiating changes and mitigations that ease concerns of people like Fuller while not making the project financially unfeasible for developer Legacy Partners remains to be seen.
As proposed, the transit village <http://tinyurl.com/yjqg8j5> would convert a 10.53-acre strip of land within the existing Caltrain station and running parallel to the railroad corridor. Legacy's proposal envisions eight buildings housing 280 "luxury" housing units among a mix of 407,298 square feet of residential, 23,797 square feet of office space and 14,326 square feet of "upscale" retail space. The project would include 667 parking spaces and a new SamTrans Transit Center on 4.29 acres. SamTrans, the land's current owner, would grant Legacy a long-term lease for a little more than half the site followed by ownership of the proposed mixed-use and transit-oriented development.
Both Savay and Fuller agree the proposal would be an aesthetic improvement to the current site -- a vacant automobile dealership and undeveloped land.
"Dirt is an undesirable situation for the city to have as its grand entrance," Savay said.
The project will also carry capital improvements like sidewalk repair that the cash-strapped city might otherwise be unable to cover.
Fuller said he understands that, as well as acknowledging that the project is not going away.
"We're reasonable people. We understand things have to happen," Fuller said.
What he and other GESC members want, he said, are changes to the plan, like lowering the building size to three stories to protect views of the hills and limit shadowing. Fuller said four rather than two rows of trees would also help as would a reassessment of just how much new noise might impact their quality of life and property values. And another park to absorb some of the extra residents? That is definitely on the list, Fuller said.
"We're not going to win everything we want, but want to hold off the impacts. The question is can they really ram this through without giving us anything? We're scared," Fuller said.
Aside from making the gateway welcoming, Savay said the development could draw more people -- and their wallets -- to San Carlos. The new housing units could also generate more money for the city from residents who pay taxes and spend either in the in-house retail space or elsewhere.
"Studies show it could be an annual shot in the arm to the local economy," Savay said.
Unlike developments in other areas, the space near the train line also can qualify for state and federal funds specifically earmarked for transit-oriented projects, Savay said.
The project also coincides with ongoing efforts to spruce up El Camino Real as a whole -- the Grand Boulevard Initiative <http://grandboulevard.net>.
Fuller believes that goal might be outweighing resident concerns and feels those worries are falling on deaf ears.
The project has changed since first proposed. The original 2005 plan suggested 319 resident units and 6,000 square feet of retail. The ideas morphed multiple times until the current scenario submitted in April 2009.
There is an alternative scenario of 240 units and some buildings lowered to three stories but Savay said the developer has made it clear eliminating floors outright will be economically unfeasible.
Economics are also on the mind of consultants. The city's fiscal impact analysis of the project found that it could cost the city's general fund an annual deficit of $151,054, primarily for fire and police costs. Taxes revenue will be close to $1.2 million and some are already earmarked -- $368,182 shared with San Mateo County for the library, $920,000 for parks and more than $830,000 for the local school district.
Annual retail expenses are also estimated at $6.9 million.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@... or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.
[BATN: See also:
Column: NIMBYism sweeps state; HSR brings out the most NIMBYs
Letter: SF air quality measure a model for San Carlos TOD
SamTrans details TODs at Colma BART, San Carlos Caltrain
Plans unveiled for TOD on Samtrans land at San Carlos Caltrain
SamTrans TOD at San Carlos Caltrain includes 280 units
San Carlos touts mixed-use TOD on SamTrans land at Caltrain
SamTrans moves ahead with TOD at San Carlos Caltrain
SamTrans unveils 350-condo TOD at San Carlos Caltrain station
San Carlos NIMBYs worried by SamTrans' TOD plans
TOD developer favors condos over rentals at San Carlos Caltrain
San Carlos man aims to replace his house near Caltrain with TOD
SamTrans approves negotiations for San Carlos TOD project
Samtrans weighing San Carlos Caltrain TOD proposals
SamTrans proposes TOD right at San Carlos Caltrain (5 Jul 04)
Some oppose San Carlos Caltrain TOD housing plans (8 Jan 02)
Samtrans/Caltrain boss Scanlon wants TOD in San Carlos (30 Jan 01)