San Mateo weighs transit-centered zoning 

High-density development near transit centers may be a popular trend in urban developments, but residents worry that more people in already dense areas may do nothing but add to San Mateo’s traffic problems.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission will discuss the establishment of a formal Transit-Oriented Development Zoning District in the areas around the Hillsdale and Hayward Park train stations. If approved by the City Council, the zoning would pave the way for any future development or redevelopment on the site to become transit oriented, which focuses on public transportation used by residents of high-density, mixed-use developments.

The areas in question are already slated for future transit-oriented developments under the San Mateo Rail Corridor Transit-Oriented Development Plan, adopted in 2005 after prolonged public debate that centered on the proposed replacement of the Bay Meadows racetrack with dense housing. The city is now working to make zoning law reflect that, as required by California law.

But residents such as Mike Germano from the Beresford Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, who opposed the plan, say the city is gambling in their hopes for an influx of transit-riding new residents, because public transportation is not extensive or reliable enough in the area.

"If the area is already developed, and there’s not reasonable infrastructure to feed the areas outside of it, then all you’ve succeeded in doing is putting a lot more people in that area. You haven’t really alleviated anything," he said.

Planning Chief Ronald Munekawa said that the city is not just thinking of transit-oriented issues from a building perspective. Future developers — in exchange for the city allowing greater heights and densities — would be encouraged to include shuttle services for ferry workers and residents to the train.

"We’re trying to accommodate future developments in the area where there is the least amount of impact," Munekawa said.

While the city has the same maximum heights and densities for all projects, it is willing to grant larger projects within those limits if developers can show the project is transit oriented, Munekawa added.

And although the push for increased transit-oriented development is a Bay Area-wide effort, Germano said the high cost of living and limited public transportation lines — as opposed to cities like New York and Chicago with extensive subway lines — makes transit oriented development difficult along the Peninsula.

"A lot of cities along the Peninsula that were designed as car-based suburbs, they aren’t set up for public transportation," he said.

The Planning Commission will meet at 7:30 p.m. at 330 W. 20th Ave. in the Council Chambers.

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