Councilman suggests replacing retail space in project with apartments

Firehouse Square

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

A Belmont councilman said Tuesday (May 28) that he would like to replace the retail part of a development near the Iron Gate Restaurant with housing, even though that might delay the long-awaited project.

Councilman Doug Kim suggested putting four to five apartments in the 3,783 square feet proposed for retail at the corner of O’Neill Avenue and El Camino Real. The proposed development already has 81 homes.

Kim acknowledged that people are eager for construction to start on the project, known as Firehouse Square, which has been in the works for five years. But he said the retail space might be hard to lease.

Kim pointed to a similar project in San Carlos with the same amount of retail space. He said the developer has had a difficult time finding tenants. He said merchants might not want to lease a space without dedicated parking.

He estimates that four to five more apartments could be built instead of the retail space.

“I think our desperate housing market would love this,” Kim said. “I would like the council to seriously consider this. I think it would absolute win-win.”

Reaction

But some on and off the dais were less enthused with Kim’s idea.

Former Mayor Adele Della Santina said that the retail corner would enliven the Belmont’s downtown.

Councilman Charles Stone said he wants to see construction get started as soon as possible.

“I don’t want to take any extra time,” Stone said. “When I was elected, I thought we would have shovels in dirt in 2014, then again in 2015.”

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Mary Morrissey Parden noted that the corner of O’Neill and El Camino has been vacant for over 20 years.

Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman, who has been on council for 13 years, said that there have been three or four attempts to get something built on that corner, but none panned out.

Council didn’t vote on Kim’s idea last night. Instead, council unanimously approved the environmental requirements for Firehouse Square.

Final vote next month

Firehouse Square will come up for a final vote on June 11. At that time, besides voting up or down on the development, council will decide whether to enter into a 70-year lease agreement with developers Sares-Regis and MidPen Housing.

Kim said he plans to talk more about adding additional housing at that meeting.

If the project goes forward as currently planned, the project would have two parts on the L-shaped property that starts at the corner of O’Neill and El Camino.
The portion being built by MidPen will have 66 low-income apartments and retail space.

The 3,700 square feet of retail space will start at the El Camino and O’Neill corner. In the three stories above the retail space, the apartments would have a range of affordability levels. Families of two who earn $35,200 a year will be able to rent some apartments, as would those earning $93,950 a year. One of the apartments would be reserved for a property manager. The apartment and retail building will end halfway down the Fifth Avenue block.

The rest of the project, which will be built by Sares-Regis, starts at the corner of Fifth and Broadway and would consist of 15 townhouses, each two stories tall. The townhouses would be sold at free-market rates.

Parts of the city’s old fire station, which still stand along O’Neill, will be incorporated in the MidPen portion of the project and a commemorative plaque will be installed as part of the project.

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