By Nancy Amdur
A long-awaited condominium-and-retail project in downtown San Carlos is coming closer to fruition with plans set to gain city approval this summer and construction expected to begin next year.
“Wheeler Plaza has been in the works for many, many years,” said Al Savay, the city’s community development director.
The redevelopment project, which will include 109 for-sale condominiums with 10,000 square feet of retail space fronting San Carlos Avenue, was first discussed in the late ’90s as a way to bring more vitality and parking to downtown, Savay said.
Redwood City-based Silverstone Communities, which was selected to develop the transit-oriented project in 2009, will build one-, two- and three-bedroom condos ranging in size from 850 square feet to 1,400 square feet, said John McMorrow, the president of Silverstone. A parking garage with about 190 spaces will be provided for residents. Silverstone, which will buy the site from the city for $1, also will replace the city’s 187 surface parking spaces at the site with a two-story 237-space public parking structure.
During the years since the mixed-use project was proposed, the city worked to assemble three parcels surrounding the Wheeler Plaza parking area to create a suitably sized development site. Complications later arose because the city bought two of the site’s properties with state redevelopment agency dollars. When redevelopment agencies dissolved three years ago, San Carlos officials had to gain state approval to use those properties for the Wheeler Plaza project. The city received the OK from the state six months ago.
“It took a lot of years to do this and there were a lot of complications along the way, but we’re back on board, and we have a good project proposed,” Savay said.
Wheeler Plaza will sit on about 2.4 acres on the block bounded by San Carlos Avenue and Walnut, Laurel and Cherry streets. The site now includes a public parking plaza, two retail buildings fronting San Carlos Avenue and a six-unit rental housing property on Walnut. Wheeler Plaza is about one block from the city’s Caltrain station.
The city will help relocate commercial tenants now at the site, including a locksmith, liquor store and hair salon, and the tenants now have free rent until August, Savay said.
The city also purchased property along Laurel Street in front of the development, which will be used for valet parking during construction of Wheeler Plaza then later be transformed into a public plaza with a mixed-use structure featuring office space and a ground-floor restaurant. The city for now will retain ownership of that area, occupied by a former Foodville Market, and seek a developer for that project.
San Carlos officials expect Wheeler Plaza to enhance the downtown.
“This project is the right location and has the right amenities for San Carlos, providing parking, housing, Class A retail space and public gathering space,” said City Manager Jeff Maltbie in a statement following the state’s site approval for the project.
“You add to the vitality and sustainability of a downtown by adding a built-in customer base there and getting new buildings,” Savay said.
“Retailers along San Carlos and along Laurel Street will greatly benefit by having more homeowners within a walkable distance,” McMorrow added.
The existing properties along San Carlos Avenue are “dated,” McMorrow said, so “we’re replacing the existing retail with fresh new retail, and really revitalizing that portion of San Carlos Avenue, which is the gateway to Laurel Street and San Carlos’ premier retail area.”
Housing also is needed in the city, especially for people who would like to live near downtown, Savay said.
The project will be presented to the city’s planning commission in April or May and to City Council in May or June. Silverstone expects to begin construction in spring 2016 and to complete the project in 2018, McMorrow said.
Wheeler Plaza is part of “an unprecedented amount of activity and development in our community,” Savay said.
The city approved the Transit Village project between El Camino Real and the city’s Caltrain station, which will include 202 rental apartments and about 25,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Foster City-based Legacy Partners Residential, Inc. will develop the project on land owned by SamTrans. Also, a new 200-room hotel, likely under a Marriott brand, on city-owned land at Industrial Road and East San Carlos Avenue is in the works. The city looks to have that project approved by June.