By Meghan Hall
For the past several years the City of Belmont has been carefully crafting its plans for future development knowing that the growth and expansion that has hit larger cities such as San José and Santa Clara would someday come to Belmont. The city formerly adopted a new general plan and planning policies in 2017, right around the same time development interest in the town of 27,000 people began to take off. Several projects are underway throughout Belmont, but leading them in size and scale is Windy Hill properties Artisan Crossing. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based developer is proposing to build 250 homes, taking up 2.1 acres and almost an entire city block bordered by O’Neill Ave., El Camino Real and Old County Rd.
“I think Belmont has been really thoughtful to go through a multi-year process to make sure that what they allow is in sync with what the community wants,” said Jamie D’Alessandro, one of three owners of Windy Hill and the point person for the Artisan Crossing project.
The whole development will be comprised of for-rent apartments, of which 38 units will be designated as low-income, affordable housing. The apartments will be what D’Alessandro deemed a “blended mix” of studios, one- and two-bedroom residences. Plans for the development also include a 5,000 square foot public plaza, a publicly accessible bike kitchen and 1,500 square feet of space for the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA), a non-profit based in Mountain View, Calif. D’Alessandro said the aim of the development is to reactivate the property, particularly at the corner of O’Neill and El Camino Real, where the plaza and development’s main entrance will be located. In the future, the plaza and Artisan Crossing entrance will serve as the endpoint for the O’Neill Undercrossings project, an infrastructure project that would create a bike loop along O’Neill and under the Caltrain tracks.
“What you’re going to see is ground floor commercial, upper floor residential and significant infrastructure improvements to improve multimodal access,” said Carlos de Melo, the community development director for the City of Belmont. “It will start to formulate what one would call a mini downtown.”
Windy Hill’s original plan was to build 175 units on the site but upped that number to 250 after working to acquire just over half an acre more of land. D’Alessandro said that the decision to increase the number of units was driven by the ability to acquire the additional land needed, and it was an option Windy Hill was cognizant of when it presented its original iteration of the plans to Belmont city officials.
“We had submitted a plan for 175 units that incorporated three parcels. All the while, we were working on assembling additional ones,” explained D’Alessandro. “We knew the city would love to see redevelopment on the whole block.”
In addition to upping the number of units, Windy Hill reoriented the development and reconfigured the parking on the property. Originally, Windy Hill intended to use a mechanical lift system to incorporate enough parking into the development. With the new parcels, Windy Hill has changed its plans to traditional parking stalls. The ratio of parking spaces to units will remain the same.
The location was ideal for Windy Hill because of its proximity to road transit, the Belmont Caltrain station and nearby job bases in Redwood City and San Mateo.
“We’re trailblazing in the location,” explained D’Alessandro. “I think this is a pioneering housing location.”
There are two other housing projects currently under construction in Belmont. The first, a 74-unit condominium complex located at the corner of Davy Glen and El Camino Real, is built by developer Sares Regis Group. Another, located at 600 El Camino Real, will add 32 condominiums and 10,000 square feet of commercial space.
Another project for 81 residential units is also going through the planning process and will be built on land that the city currently owns. 15 of those units — also to be built by Sares Regis — will be market rate condominiums, while the remaining 66 will be a multi-family affordable housing development. According to de Melo, this is the most construction and development activity the city has seen in several decades.
“Even on our best days, I don’t think we could compete with San José, San Mateo, San Francisco or Redwood City in terms of the size and scale of development,” said de Melo. “But for Belmont’s past practice, this is significant. I can’t recall a time in my 19 years here where I’ve seen this much activity.”
The City has tried to create flexibility within its new development standards to encourage new projects within Belmont while maintaining the residential feel of the town. According to de Melo, 60 to 70 percent of Belmont is composed of residential, and most of that is comprised of single-family homes. However, the city has increased allowable heights within the El Camino Real and Belmont Village area, eliminated density metrics for future development and reduced parking requirements to make Belmont an appealing location for developers. Development in the town, said de Melo, has been a long time coming.
“The rule structure, policy direction and acceptance of multifamily housing wasn’t quite what it could be before,” said de Melo. “With the adoption of all of these policy documents and a really hot economy, we’re seeing significant housing creation, and it’s long overdue.”
According to D’Alessandro, buildout of Artisan Crossing — which is slated to cost upwards of $100 million — will take between 22 to 24 months, and Windy Hill will break ground as soon as the approval process is complete. De Melo said, however, that although an application for the project has been submitted, it probably will not have a public hearing until January 2019.
“Belmont worked for years, through community visioning and a lot of public hearings, to provide a roadmap for development,” said D’Alessandro. “Cities cannot make development happen but they can create a vision with input from stakeholders and residents. Our project complies with Belmont’s Specific Plan and hopefully does a part in realizing that vision the city has sought out as a goal.”