Vassar’s Proposal for 483,000 SQFT Life Science Project Met with Excitement by Burlingame Planning Commission

Burlingame Planning Commission, Vassar Properties, DGA, CMG Landscape Architecture, Burlingame, San Francisco, Bay Trail, San Francisco International Airport

By Kate Snyder

Members of the Burlingame Planning Commission were impressed by the proposal to not only construct two nine-story office/life science buildings on Airport Boulevard but also to revitalize the Bay Trail along the north end of the site.

The commission met on Monday and heard a presentation of the project by representatives of the developer Vassar Properties, architect DGA and landscape architect CMG Landscape Architecture. Overall, the project consists of two buildings totaling 483,380 square feet, minus the below-level parking areas, that could accommodate either life science or office space uses.

“The real distinguishing factors on the site here are just this wonderful connection to the Bay Trail and the spectacular views over the Bay,” said Gary Leivers, principal at DGA. “So in summation of our objectives, we really think we want to take advantage of those views as much as possible in addition to maximizing the development.”

Located at 620 Airport Blvd., the site is 3.7 acres and the space is currently a parking lot supporting parking and shuttle services for people flying in and out of San Francisco International Airport. San Francisco-based Vassar Properties has owned the development site since 1998.

According to the proposal, each building would have a main lobby, flex space and covered parking on the first floor, or at the plaza level, and lab/office space on the second through eighth floors. The northern building would be approximately 239,400 square feet and the southern building would be slightly larger at approximately 243,980 square feet.

“While the building would be constructed to accommodate a life science use with larger floor to ceiling heights (15’-6”), the tenant improvements would ultimately determine the end use of the space as either office or a life science use with office, research and development and laboratories,” city records state. “The building is not being constructed for a specific tenant at this time and may in fact accommodate multiple tenants.”

However, while the development team noted that the specific site owned by Vassar is 3.7 acres, the project area spans an area of approximately five acres, because the proposal includes the revitalization and continued maintenance of the Bay Trail adjacent to the planned new construction.

That land – approximately 1.6 acres – is owned by the state, and the development team is working to hash out an agreement that would give Vassar stewardship of the trail area without owning it.

Leivers told the commission that the plan was to highlight the nature surrounding the site, so rather than one larger building, the design team split the development into two distinct entities. Between the two buildings would be a half-acre public plaza, stroll garden and outdoor rooms.

“It’s all about transparency, connection to the outside, really trying to erode the threshold between inside and outside,” Leivers said.

Justin Aff, project manager and senior associate at CMG, said the plan is designed to bring the bay environment into the site as much as possible.

“We hope for a very accessible plaza space that connects out to the Bay Trail,” he said.

The Bay Trail redevelopment proposal includes approximately 45,000 square feet of improvements, including new seating and picnic areas, an outdoor fitness area, parking and bike storage. According to public records, the project would also improve approximately 25,000 square feet of the existing Bay Trail and adjacent landscaping. Other improvements include raising the shoreline by 17 feet as well as widening and paving the Bay Trail, according to the development team.

Public comments about the project came via email and were mostly positive with a few concerns about keeping birds safe from flying into the buildings and the amount of traffic that the development might bring to the area.

Leivers noted several bird safety treatment plans as part of the design, including coating the windows with a glaze visible to birds but not to humans.

Though no action was taken during the meeting, commission members were excited about the project, particularly the design, the plan to maintain the Bay Trail, and the effect the project could have on businesses and public engagement in the surrounding community.

Commissioner John Schmid shared concerns about the traffic but overall said he liked the proposal. He also highlighted the possibilities of the site’s flexible space.

“If you get a fair amount of food and beverage in there, then you really make that courtyard and Bay Trail work well,” he said.

Commissioner Audrey Tse also shared her excitement for the plan.

“I think that you’ve done such a beautiful job designing such a light and airy, very delicate kind of structure that really looks so comfortable,” she said.

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