San Mateo officials weigh benefits of Kaiser center project 

San Mateo Planning officials and residents are wondering whether the increased traffic from a proposed medical center near Bay Meadows will outweigh the community benefit of filling a lot that has sat vacant for years.

Kaiser Permanente hopes to house 22 care providers and other services in the proposed three-story 64,300 medical center on a 4.2 acre lot at the corner of Franklin Parkway and Saratoga Drive. The center would have a two-level parking garage with 207 parking spaces on site.

"Just by not having that empty lot with a fence there, it’s going to be an improvement," said San Mateo/Glendale Village Neighborhood Association President Greg Grialou. "But whatever goes in there is going to create a traffic nightmare."

Even with the current empty lot, traffic is heavy and fast in that area, in a square also bordered by East Hillsdale Boulevard and U.S. Highway 101. The addition of pedestrian overpasses to provide a safe route for visitors over the busy streets or on-site amenities to cut down on the amount of traffic into the parking garage could alleviate some of the concern.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the project Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 14. Among other changes made to the proposal since then, Associate Planner Kenneth Chin said the building and its parking lot have switched positions on the lot. The medical center is now on the southern half of the lot.

"The Planning Commission was looking for something to relate to the [planned] police station across the street. Having the parking garage across from it wasn’t the right fit," Chin said.

Kaiser spokesman Carl Sonkin said the health care provider didn’t mind making the changes so they could build at a location north of Redwood City to serve their 40,000 county members.

Kaiser is not the first group to attempt to build on the site. In 2002, Westin Hotels began planning to build a hotel on the site, but a market downturn ended that plan. In late 2005, planning officials put the brakes on a proposed 190 multi-family unit housing project after deeming the location inappropriate for housing.

While San Mateo will benefit from sales and property taxes collected from a medical center, it loses between $500,000 and almost $1.5 million in revenues that would have come in through the site’s original hotel plan.

To meet the city’s expectations for green construction, Kaiser is planning to use bioswales — plots of dirt and vegetation to filter runoff — and photovoltaic solar panels on the side rather than roof of the building.

Depending on the commission’s reaction to the new plan, Chin said the item could be back for approval three months from Tuesday, but he stressed that more discussions and revisions were likely on the project.

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