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The Community Site for East San Carlos Residents

30 Foot Height Limit!

30 Foot Height Limit!

In the San Carlos Transit Village EIR the following are listed as the project objectives:

Project Developer and Property Owner Objectives

Legacy Partners Residential LLC, Inc. and SamTrans have identified the below project objectives.

  • Create a vibrant, exceptionally designed, new, mixed-use neighborhood on a currently vacant and underutilized site.
  • Provide infill rental housing in San Carlos giving area residents more choices for affordable housing near transit.
  • Design a high quality transit-oriented development, capitalizing on its proximity to the Caltrain Station and downtown San Carlos, and create an attractive, vibrant plaza which would benefit the community.
  • Increase ridership of transit on both Caltrain and SamTrans through the creation of a series of carefully planned public and private spaces, linking pedestrians to the development, the transit station, and the greater San Carlos community.
  • Create housing that is not auto-dependent.

Lets examine these eloquent objectives to the realities of the project.

  • Create a vibrant, exceptionally designed, new, mixed-use neighborhood on a currently vacant and underutilized site.

The first bullet point from the developers is pure marketing.  I think we could all agree that the lot is vacant.  But we need to define our terms in respect to what vibrant and exceptionally designed actually mean.  I know that working with the existing neighborhood is not part of the definition from the developers of exceptional design.  In my definition, exceptional design would need to include things like:

  • Be sensitive to the surrounding neighborhoods
  • Create buildings that scale with the existing community
  • Create buildings that do not overshadow our historic landmark train depot, Drake Building, and Carlos Club

That last bullet regarding historic landmarks was something that the Berm project evaluated extensively, however this EIR mentions The Drake Building and Carlos Club only once in passing and does not reference how the the one story Carlos Club and Drake Buildings were taken into their design considerations.  I think they are not mentioned because the developers of this project do not want you to think about  a massive 47 foot high retail structure right next to those three historic one story buildings.

Additionally the East San Carlos Specific Plan clearly states that:

Multi-family developments and mixed-use developments that include housing should be compatible with the buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods and reflect the character of those buildings.

Another thing that takes this project out of the exceptionally designed category is placing residential housing smack dab in the middle of the two biggest noise generators in our community.  El Camino Real and it’s attendant traffic noise, and the Caltrain Tracks.  This does not fit the definition of exceptional design, its more in the “fitting a square peg in a round hole” design category.  The amount of noise-proofing needed in the units will only help them fit within the legal requirements inside the apartments with all windows closed.  Crack open a window in one of those units and all acceptable noise levels will be exceeded.  All of this extra soundproofing will create more mass and density in the structures which will only reflect more sound into the surrounding neighborhoods which are already severely impacted.

Finally the use of “exceptionally designed” by the developers is no accident.  They are referencing this phrase because they think that by merely using the phrase “exceptionally designed” that they can get past the requirements stated regarding multi-family housing in the East Side General Plan which states:

Multi-family or mixed-use developments that abut single-family residential neighborhoods shall be subject to four conditions:
  • Development shall be no more than 30 feet in height.
  • Development shall be set back 15 feet from adjoining single-family residential properties.
  • Outdoor lighting should not obtrude upon adjoining single-family residential properties.
  • Exceptions to height or density limits shall require a Conditional Use Permit. In addition to findings required for approval of a Conditional Use Permit, the body that grants this Use Permit shall determine that a given project exhibits exceptional architectural design.

Read the first bullet point.  Read it again…

There is a maximum allowed height of 30 feet for Multi-family or mixed-use developments that abut single-family residential neighborhoods.

The use of “exceptional design” is just a means to get around the requirement that new mixed use developments can only reach a maximum height of 30 feet.  That phrase is only there to justify 54 foot apartment towers.

  • Provide infill rental housing in San Carlos giving area residents more choices for affordable housing near transit.

Here is an issue near and dear to my heart.  I would love to see a goal here that describes metrics like provide over 50% of the units at below market rate housing costs for local workers, teachers, police and fire fighters, as well as artists.  A goal with metrics like these would go a far way towards establishing a little credibility regarding creating “vibrant” housing.  Our community would be a better and more vibrant place if we had a higher percentage of educators, public servants, and artists living in it.

The thing about this bullet point is that at the GESC meeting the number of affordable housing units that was being thrown out by the developer was 15%.  This sure seems low if affordable housing is a main goal of the project.  50% or higher should be the goal in that case.  It also doesn’t square with what the developer stated at the meeting that these units would be “Luxury” rentals at going market rate prices.  This “affordable housing” goal is merely complying with state law.  Hard to call it a Project Objective if it in reality is a legal requirement.

  • Design a high quality transit-oriented development, capitalizing on its proximity to the Caltrain Station and downtown San Carlos, and create an attractive, vibrant plaza which would benefit the community.

I would like someone to explain to me how anyone would be interested in congregating at a public plaza that gets all of the noise from El Camino and then all of the noise from the train horns, engine noise, and break squeals.  This is simply ludicrous.  This plaza and the development site in general are already above legal noise limits, who in their right mind is going to spend their time breathing exhaust fumes and being bombarded by traffic and train noises?  The small water feature will not drown out the traffic or train.

  • Increase ridership of transit on both Caltrain and SamTrans through the creation of a series of carefully planned public and private spaces, linking pedestrians to the development, the transit station, and the greater San Carlos community.

I have already written a post on how this project moves Caltrain parking away from the platform by a factor of 3 or 4 times.  It is hard to see how this would encourage more people that already live in the community to ride the train.  Also notice that they mention public spaces in the plural, but I only see one public oriented space in this entire development and it seems to be geared to serving the private retail structures far more than as a public plaza where the townfolk will congregate.

  • Create housing that is not auto-dependent

As much as I love this goal, it is really up to communities and our society as a whole to restructure away from autos.  Non auto-dependent housing in a suburban community unfortunately is an oxymoron and simply does not exist.

This is a wonderful goal for a city development but it is hard to see how it would work in San Carlos.  One possibility is that they could eliminate 75% of the spots and only allow people to move in who are willing to use a City Car Share program as their only means of auto transportation and to not buy a car.  This could be cool, but I have a hard time seeing this work outside of a city development.

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