Foster City fancies a center of activity 

A heart — that’s what Foster City officials hope their city will be getting in exchange for the city’s last vacant lot.

They envision farmers markets, concerts and art festivals. They see restaurants easily accessible to visitors who moor their boats in the nearby marina. They hope for the downtown that Foster City has never had.

Tonight, after nearly two years of discussions and negotiations, the precise details of how that heart will look and feel will finally begin to be hammered out. The city’s Planning Commission will hear exactly what the chosen developer proposes for 11 of the empty 15 acres south of City Hall.

The developer, San Mateo-based Sares Regis Group of Northern California, has designed a development with mixed-use senior housing, retail space and a "town square," but now the Planning Commission — and later the City Council — will give guidance to the developer about details such as public access, easement and traffic, said John Igoe, senior vice president of Sares Regis.

Mayor Pam Frisella said she’s going to push for as much retail and public space as possible in the complex.

"People are always saying we don’t have a downtown," she said. "I don’t think that’s exactly stifled all of our lives for the last 35 years, but the people of Foster City own this land, and they should get something out of it that they can all use."

City Council member Linda Koelling said she wants the development to be a "destination area" for the community to enjoy outdoor activities, such as summer concerts and the city’s wine and jazz festival.

Tonight’s study session will be the first of two held by the Planning Commission on the development. After getting the commission’s approval, the project will have to go through severalmore layers of review and approval. Igoe hopes the project will begin construction by June 2009.

In December, the city came to an agreement with Sares Regis, which was awarded the project based on its design ideas and financial backing. Sares Regis has agreed to pay the city $2.1 million a year in rent on the 11-acre property.

The final 4 acres of vacant land are being reserved until June for a possible charter high school.

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