After years of planning to expand its campus in downtown San Mateo, officials with St. Matthew Catholic Church were finally given the green light by the City Council Tuesday night to add much needed parking to the campus and to build a new 12,000-square-foot gymnasium.
The decision comes after residents in the Parrot Park Homeowners Association and along Aragon Boulevard have stood against the church's expansion plans for years, contending streets near the church already get clogged with traffic and parking as parents drop off and pick up their children from the private kindergarten-eighth grade school.
But the council voted 4-0, with Councilman Brandt Grotte absent, to approve the plan, contending improvements to the campus will help alleviate parking conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods.
"The neighbors have had reason to complain, especially when their driveways get blocked,” Deputy Mayor Robert Ross told the Daily Journal yesterday. "But the church has been a big and positive part of the community for a long time and its current facilities are inadequate.”
The church has been planning to expand its campus since 2006 and first came to the city with an application in 2009. But the Planning Commission has consistently recommended the council to not approve the expansion plans, including the current project the council approved Tuesday night.
"The council heard how the project would create improved conditions for the church, its students and neighbors,” said Brian Swartz, the church's project manager.
Church officials agreed to new project conditions including having a parking monitor on Aragon Boulevard and tightening the hours of operation for the gymnasium, Swartz said.
Since the land the church sits on is technically zoned residential, the church is considered a legal non-conforming use which will require the issuance of special-use permits for the project to proceed.
The church will first add about 100 parking spaces to the campus before applying for a building permit for gymnasium construction, Swartz said.
Church officials will meet this week to hammer out a schedule, he said.
Traffic studies helped sway the council, which indicated the use of the gymnasium would not add significant traffic or be a burden on parking for nearby residences.
"I think the project works well for the community. It gives certainty for what can be expected in the future,” Councilman Jack Matthews said.
With traffic and parking being monitored every six months, Matthews said, the church will have an incentive to not be a burden on the neighborhood. If the church does not meet the council's conditions for approvals, it could be denied special-use permits in the future for any of its annual fundraising events, Matthews said.
The conditions will prevent the church from using the gymnasium during mass, for example, so there will be no competition for parking, Matthews said.
The proposal includes an addition of 108 new parking spaces on site, for a total of 306, and construction of a new gymnasium with approximately 12,000 square feet in overall floor area.
"The parking plan, it will be a tight fit but it definitely can be done,” Ross said. "The location of the gymnasium shouldn't bother neighbors as much as they fear.”
The new gym will face El Camino Real.
The site, bounded by Notre Dame Avenue and Aragon Boulevard on El Camino Real, currently has parking for only 198 vehicles.
After the church completes the project, those who continue to block driveways in the adjacent neighborhood will face warnings and harsher penalties, Ross said.
The project includes a master plan to regulate the allowable uses on the site including: limiting the use of the gymnasium to athletic events related solely to St. Matthew School; restrictions to prohibit the simultaneous use of the gymnasium and existing auditorium; limitations on the number of special events held annually on the site; and a requirement for police officer patrol in the neighborhood during special events to enforce traffic and parking violations.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.