By Jacob Bourne
The Request for Proposals period for consultant services to update San Mateo’s Downtown Plan ended July 29. Three proposals were submitted to the City during the month-long period, and potential consultant teams were interviewed about their experience and backgrounds. Community Development Department personnel are now checking references of the interested parties and will subsequently choose a single team to recommend to City Council. The Council is expected to make a decision on the preferred proposal in October.[contextly_sidebar id=”Z9mWrOsXVshWNR1WmZVVweeS3XpBljJ9″]“Council will review the proposal and may make changes,” said Julia Klein, senior planner, San Mateo. “They have the latitude to make changes if there’s anything they’d like to add. In theory, if they’re happy with the proposal, they can award the contract that night.”
Selection criteria for a preferred team include experience and quality of past urban planning endeavors, and a proven understanding the fabric of San Mateo’s communities, especially the goals and issues of Downtown.
Once selected, the consultant team will conduct extensive outreach to fine-tune a community vision, create scenarios that address community goals for Downtown, and analyze potential environmental and fiscal impacts of the scenarios as well as associated community benefits. Further outreach will be done to present scenarios to the community utilizing visual tools like 3D imaging technologies. When a preferred scenario is chosen that establishes a comprehensive outlook, the team will then be tasked with developing a draft specific plan. The draft will define overall goals, a specific planning process and land use descriptions for the Downtown area.
“We’re focusing on a vision for Downtown,” Klein commented. “This is about community visioning and finding out what residents want. What do we want Downtown to be like 10 to 20 years in the future? It’s actually a really exciting process. Many of these things we couldn’t do previously because of the Recession. Now this gives us the opportunity to address issues that have already been identified. We want people to be thinking about what kind of community they want for their kids and grandkids.”
The last Downtown Plan was developed in 2008 and 2009 during the Great Recession and as funding for the project was limited, the plan’s scope focused on maintenance policies such as ensuring adequate parking. With today’s expanding economy, City officials expect that more property owners will seek redevelopment projects, and have identified the need for an updated plan that’s based on community preferences for the character of a future Downtown public realm.
According to Klein, there’s a common misconception about the extent of the area encompassing Downtown and that many people don’t realize that the neighborhood extends east of the railroad tracks that run parallel to Railroad Avenue. An important aspect of the plan adoption process will be to better link the two segments of Downtown by improving pedestrian access and overall connectivity to the San Mateo Downtown Caltrain Station, which serves the entire area.
Also in the vicinity, the former San Mateo Redevelopment Agency had identified two Downtown project sites, both east of the railroad tracks, which the City had been working to revitalize with public improvement projects, bolstering commercial functions and creating low to moderate income housing. This initiative along with the Central Park Master Plan that’s currently being developed, will be incorporated into the overall vision of the Downtown Plan.
Determining building heights and density limits will also be significant aspects of the planning process. The consultant team will work to create standards for development characteristics and appearance, how to transition from predominately single family home neighborhoods to higher-density areas, and how to best preserve historic buildings.
“We expect this to be an 18 to 24 month process,” Klein said. “Most of that will be a community engagement process with meetings and workshops. We want to engage everyone including people who don’t normally attend meetings.”