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Samtrans/Caltrain head wants TOD in San Carlos

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    Published Tuesday, January 30, 2001, in the San Francisco Chronicle Housing Outside The Box Proposal links shops, apartments, Caltrain Mark Simon The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 30, 2001
      Published Tuesday, January 30, 2001, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      Housing Outside The Box
      Proposal links shops, apartments, Caltrain

      Mark Simon

      The difficulty lies in reaching that point where what needs to be
      done connects with a will to do it.

      If we need more housing, and no one disputes that we do, then the
      question is where we put it.

      If we don't want to build on the foothills and the open spaces and
      the baylands and the beaches -- and we don't -- then we need more
      density.

      Since we can't spread out, we have to go up.

      But high-rise development attacks our very notion of suburban life
      and the hearth-and-home, backyard-barbecue, ride-your-bike-in-the-
      street imagery that drew us here.

      On the other hand, our notion of what it is like to live here already
      is under attack by traffic congestion and the skyrocketing cost of a
      home.

      Against that backdrop, Mike Scanlon, the head of SamTrans, has been
      telling local officials in the year-plus since he came here from
      Florida, that they need to move toward transit-oriented development.

      What he means is a European-style model of residential development
      within walking distance to shopping, trains and buses that eliminates
      the need for day-to-day use of the automobile.

      And now he is proposing just that on a 7-acre parcel of Caltrain
      right-of-way land in San Carlos, on the east side of El Camino Real,
      just north of Holly Street and the train station.

      "I go around talking about transit-oriented development," said
      Scanlon. "The best way to talk about transit-oriented development is
      to model the way. Not just tell people to go do it, but to go do it."

      The very preliminary plans -- so preliminary that no formal proposal
      has been made to San Carlos officials -- call for using about four
      acres and building a 50-foot-high, five-story building.

      The ground floor would be office space and retail shopping. The
      remaining floors would be apartments, perhaps as many as 200 units.

      SamTrans' headquarters would be moved to the new building from its
      current location a few blocks away on San Carlos Avenue, Scanlon said.

      The goal, in addition to whatever the development itself will
      provide, is to create a model that can be duplicated the length of
      the Caltrain right of way, at every station from South San Francisco
      to San Jose.

      The key will be to tie the residential and commercial development of
      the site directly to the train station and a major bus station,
      making mass transit an integral part of living in the development.

      "I want to create a little taste of Europe. With the right
      architecture, we can accommodate a more dense population and link
      directly to Caltrain and a shuttle bus service," Scanlon said.

      "People are starting to realize we've got to do something. Where are
      our children going to live? We're so far out of balance with jobs and
      housing, and it's a supply-side problem."

      San Carlos officials have begun mulling over Scanlon's concepts as
      part of a community effort to rethink the city's downtown
      neighborhood.

      For months, the city has been conducting visualization sessions --
      meetings with residents to consider ideas for what should and should
      not be done on the city's downtown Laurel Street stretch, as well as
      on El Camino and adjacent streets.

      "In concept, it's a very good idea, but the devil is in the details.
      What they're talking about is pretty big and kind of frightening to
      people," said City Manager Mike Garvey.

      Indeed, it's downright unsettling for Duncan Browne, who lives with
      his wife and 6-year-old daughter in a two bedroom, one-bath home in
      the neighborhood just east of the site where Garvey wants to build.

      Since the Brownes moved in, the Caltrain grade separation has been
      completed, which meant hoisting the train tracks 15 feet into the air
      on a dirt berm.

      "When we moved here, we knew there was going to be a train there.
      We're not one of those people who buy a house at the end of a runway
      and then, a year later, they're complaining that the jet noise is
      terrible," Browne said.

      But if a five-story building goes up, it blocks Browne's view of the
      hills to the west, and that view is one reason he wanted the house.

      "I don't mean to be a whiner, but that's not what we signed on for,"
      he said most reasonably.

      On the other hand, what all of us signed on for may already be long
      gone.

      This is not the suburbs anymore.
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