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City's emerging vision includes new heights
August 03, 2010, 03:16 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Michael Costas/Daily Journal A new plan is emphasizing the variety of architecture, color and design in downtown San Bruno.

Aging buildings of varying colors and heights line San Bruno’s main road.

But the lack of matching decor could be the beginnings of a vibrant downtown bustling with patrons who use public transportation and visit new businesses — at least that’s the hope of city leaders who recently released a draft transit corridor plan.

A number of fixes have occurred in San Bruno’s downtown over the years but there is not a community-driven vision to guide changes. The city hired Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc. as consultants in the process of creating a plan and gathering information over the last nine months. Now hundreds of pages outline the detailed vision that includes embracing the eclectic architecture of San Mateo Avenue, creating large mixed-use building to drive traffic into the area and creating a cultural home to the many ethnic groups that call San Bruno home.

Laura Baughman, executive director of the San Bruno Chamber of Commerce, described the plan as exciting.

A focus of the plan is emphasizing the variety of architecture, color and design downtown, a decision applauded by Baughman, who serves on the steering committee. In recent years, the city offered financial help for facade improvements which resulted in the restoration and maintenance of older architecture on San Mateo Avenue, which Baughman said already added to the area.

The long-term vision of the transit corridor includes downtown San Bruno (San Mateo Avenue), Huntington Avenue, portions of El Camino Real and San Bruno Avenue.

Broken into eight chapters, the draft plan sets a vision that recognizes different neighborhoods within the corridor area, like the differences between El Camino Real and downtown San Mateo Avenue, said Community Development Director Aaron Aknin.

Increased heights will help the city bring in the mixed-use programs it seeks. San Bruno currently has an overall height limit for buildings of 50 feet or three stories, whichever is more restrictive. Plans over that height limit, like The Crossing project on El Camino Real just north of Interstate 380, must get voter approval. Within the plan are ideas to raise height limits in downtown to four stories or 60 feet, up to five stories on El Camino Real and San Bruno Avenue, and up to seven stories at the old San Bruno Lumber site near the Caltrain station. Those height increases require setbacks so buildings don’t appear to tower over the area, Aknin said.

Three locations — near the Caltrain station, the southwest corner of San Bruno and San Mateo avenues, and the triangular piece of land at El Camino Real, San Mateo Avenue and Jenevein Avenue — are earmarked for large mixed-use projects.

Aknin was most excited by the prospects of an office building next to the Caltrain station. Being located so close to the airport, train options and downtown, Aknin noted such a development would jump-start activity downtown.

San Bruno began working on the Downtown and Transit Corridors Plan in 2008. The team started with documenting and analyzing the planning area’s existing conditions including its assets, challenges and opportunities through a combination of means including background document review, site visits, stakeholder interviews and various community meetings.

On Wednesday, the steering committee will meet to review the second half of the draft plan, most importantly covering implementation.

About $7 million in revenue is outlined in the plan that the city could  currently access to begin work outlined in the project. Where the city should start, including how the $7 million could be spent, will be part of the conversation.

After the steering committee completes its meetings, the City Council acting as the Redevelopment Agency will discuss the timeline. Ultimately both the Planning Commission and City Council will need to OK the plan which will become part of the city’s general plan.

The Transit Corridor Steering Committee meets 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 4 at the Fireman’s Hall, 618 San Mateo Ave. To download the draft plan visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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