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Vision for El Camino takes form
July 05, 2010, 03:30 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff
El Camino Real near the Hillsdale Caltrain station is set for some dramatic changes in the future and a development currently under construction on the thoroughfare may offer a glimpse of what the "grand boulevard” may one day look like.

The old Goodyear tire shop and medical office building on the 2900 block of El Camino Real was demolished to make way for an affordable-housing development called Peninsula Station.

The complex sits next to the Borders bookstore in an area where the Hillsdale Caltrain station will eventually be relocated to the north of where it sits now.

The city of San Mateo is in the midst of developing the Hillsdale Station Area Plan and has solicited major community input to help decide how the area should best be transformed with an emphasis on transit-oriented development.

The city is looking at two alternatives for the area between Hillsdale Boulevard and 25th Avenue, one that centers development on El Camino Real and the other that centers future development on 31st, 28th and 25th avenues. The city is not looking to change the character of the business district on 25th Avenue, though, and will build new projects on the east side of El Camino Real depending on which alternative the city picks.

Both alternatives call for the reduction of retail space, building up to 510 new residential units and the construction of a 600-700 space parking garage near the new Caltrain station.

The Hillsdale Station Area Plan consists of 151 acres between 25th and 36th avenues and to Flores Street just west of the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Most opportunities for development will be on El Camino Real north of the Hillsdale Shopping Center and train station, said David Early, founder of Design, Community & Environment, the city’s consultant for the project.

The city held its second workshop on the area plan Wednesday night attended by Mayor John Lee, Councilman Robert Ross, former councilman Fred Hansson, architect Dan Ionescu, some public works commissioners and representatives from nonprofit housing providers. About 50 people attended the interactive workshop that allowed small groups to form their own ideas and visions for the area. The first workshop was held back in March.

The city was awarded a Station Area and FOCUS Planning Grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in partnership with the Association of Bay Area Governments to prepare the plan. Adoption of the plan is anticipated in early 2011.

"Most of the plan area is currently built upon. What buildings might be candidates for demolition to be replaced with mixed use is to be determined,” said Dahlia Chazan, senior associate with Design, Community & Environment.

There are no plans for eminent domain, Early said.

The El Camino-focused alternative, or north-south, aims to create a vibrant pedestrian-oriented street with trees, benches, shops and housing, Chazan said.

Parallel parking would be allowed on El Camino Real to buffer pedestrians from cars.

The second alternative concentrates development east and west of El Camino Real.

Both alternatives improve access to public transportation, Chazan said.

A pedestrian overpass is also proposed for the area with an idea to house retail in small kiosks along the bridge.

Participants in Wednesday’s workshop were given two maps, pens, glue and scissors to mix and match development ideas for the area.

Three of the four groups gravitated toward concentrating new construction on El Camino Real.

Plans to widen sidewalks on El Camino Real were scrapped because it would be too costly, Early said.

Peninsula Station represents the first of the new mixed-use developments slated for the area. More than 1,000 people have already applied to live in the development’s 68 units.

The Planning Commission and City Council will hold a joint session July 12 to review the alternatives for the Hillsdale Station Area Plan.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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