San Mateo Starts Process for Downtown Specific Plan Update

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San Mateo Proposed Downtown Plan Study Area

By Jacob Bourne

Prior to embarking on the initiative to update its Downtown Specific Plan adopted in 2009, the City of San Mateo completed a broad-based community outreach and engagement endeavor to garner interest and comments from diverse demographics of residents. Since then a City Council study session was held to review the engagement project results, and on July 1st a request for proposals was issued in a first step to identify a qualified consulting team to adopt an updated plan. The due date for proposals is July 29. Julia Klein, senior planner for the City, has said teams have already begun expressing interest and will be following up with more specific questions about the project and selection criteria.

[contextly_sidebar id=”xodrYo3MymUGWH7r48fCNLW81eisiJ73″]Since 2009 the Downtown Specific Plan has guided development in a part of the city that has historically been a focal point for the larger community in terms of business investment, community events and art attractions. Downtown has been a vital area in the context of San Mateo’s overall growth trends with a population that’s expected to have more than 20,000 additional residents by mid-century. Much of the current and projected growth is near the Hillsdale, Hayward Park and Downtown San Mateo Caltrain Stations.

Beginning in 2014, the City partnered with consulting firm Metropolitan Planning Group to conduct an extensive outreach and engagement effort geared towards brainstorming ways to improve the Downtown neighborhood with residents and stakeholders. A major aspect of the effort was to better connect with members of the community not always represented at public meetings. The intensive outreach efforts involved hosting over 20 events such as summits, forums and workshops with robust turn-outs where attendees engaged in productive discussions. On-line surveys and utilizing local media outlets also aided in gathering community input.

“We’ve taken to doing non-traditional planning for this by reaching out to parts of the population that aren’t usually involved,” Klein said. “We’ve done outreach to those whose primary language isn’t English and are also figuring out ways to include younger demographics even if they don’t attend evening meetings. There are a lot of different demographics in San Mateo that might use, visit and shop in Downtown. We’re trying to do something different in terms of building interest.”

In terms of public comments, issues around housing affordability, parking and traffic impacts are primary concerns for people and will be crucial topics addressed by the plan. Other central themes are a desire for enhanced accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists, increased spaces for community gatherings and the arts, shops and restaurants that cater to families, and attracting more high-tech businesses to occupy office space.

Given Downtown’s role as the heart of San Mateo, the goal of the plan will be to provide a long-term road map for the continued development and envisioning of the neighborhood based on community needs, social, economic and environmental trends. Using the public comments as a guide, the consulting team will work with City officials and planners to consider the major issues and questions essential to the development of the plan. For example, by studying market conditions, sustainability benchmarks and green technologies, the team will be able to identify what updates need to be made to design guidelines and building standards. How to best preserve historic structures while effectively repurposing the spaces will be another important consideration.

The Downtown Specific Plan is an initiative that’s funded solely with municipal dollars. According to Klein, ample time is allotted to the plan’s creation with an estimated adoption in about 18 months.

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