Community News

San Mateo County plans 100-plus affordable apartments, child care center

Kate Bradshaw/ Almanac

San Mateo County has begun a process to contract with a developer to build at least 100 affordable housing units, a child care center and some community-serving commercial space at "Middlefield Junction," at 2700 Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks, between Atherton and Redwood City.

The property, which the county owns, is a 3.2-acre parcel that was once a recycling facility, and is located just east of the North Fair Oaks Health Center, built in 2013. A key consideration in the development plans, according to county housing and community development policy specialist Heather Peters, is how the project will fit in with its surroundings, which include the health center and the Dumbarton Rail Spur, including a curved segment of railroad that ties the Caltrain rail to the Dumbarton rail line. The tracks are used an estimated two times per month, according to county documents.

The county has received four submissions following a request for proposals and is scheduled to make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for its Jan. 29 meeting. The proposals are not yet public because the county is still in negotiations, said Peters.

Once the developer is chosen, the county plans to begin a public outreach process in the spring, she said.

The priorities of housing and child care were identified through the North Fair Oaks Community Plan, completed in 2011, and a child care needs assessment completed for the county and Redwood City. The needs assessment found that there will be a shortfall of 350 infant spaces, 800 preschool spaces and 600 school-age spaces in Redwood City by 2025.

In addition, the county has requested up to 12,000 square feet to be community-serving commercial space – a term kept intentionally vague because the county aims to seek public input to determine how it's used, Peters said.

The county is expected to rezone the property to fit the development, and is likely to allow buildings 50 to 60 feet tall and residential densities up to 80 housing units per acre. The county is in the process of rezoning certain parts of North Fair Oaks for redevelopment and has so far completed two areas: Middlefield Road and El Camino Real. The area that this parcel is in, designated as "Phase 2B," is part of the next section to be rezoned.

The exact density will probably depend on the developer's planned mix of units, and how much structured or underground parking the developer can finance.

The developer will also likely have to contend with environmental contamination from the former on-site recycling facilities and the nearby rail lines.

All of the apartments will be designated for renters earning under 80 percent of the area median income, and some for renters in lower income categories, Peters said.

Though the zoning may change, a "master plan" has already been developed for the site, resulting from collaboration between county Supervisor Warren Slocum, Redwood City council member and former mayor John Seybert and retired Sequoia Healthcare District CEO Lee Michelson.

The county expects to negotiate successive 99-year ground leases with a developer, who will secure construction financing and own and manage the development on the property, according to the request for proposals document.

The county provided three alternative plans it expected developer proposals to take as a jumping-off point.

The alternatives are:

● In two phases, the construction of 130 apartments, a child care center and community-serving commercial space, estimated to cost $126 million.

● In one phase, the construction of 100 apartments, 31 townhouses, a child care center and community-serving commercial space, estimated to cost $113 million.

● In one phase, the construction of 130 apartments, the child care center and community-serving commercial space, with as much surface parking as possible, estimated cost $124 million.

The first option would have some apartments ready for occupancy within five years, and the rest within six; and the other options would be expected to be ready for occupancy within five years.

Another component of the plan is that the developer will be expected to work with households facing homelessness that are referred by the county's human services agency to provide them with some level of services at the site.

Funding the project is a complicated process, especially because it will permit multiple uses, Peters explained. "It's not like building a library or a single-use project where you just sell bonds and one person or entity pays for it," she said.

The opportunity to build affordable housing on a vacant lot is a rare one, she noted. " We have very few unused pieces of land in San Mateo County. ... The county is looking to incorporate affordable housing into every opportunity they can find for it."