Since 2006, the City Council has proposed building as many as 51 affordable family homes on a city-owned Caltrain overflow parking lot. Currently the proposal calls for a project of up to four stories.
The development is aimed at people who earn less than 60 percent of the area's median income ($64,000 a year for a family of four). After several council meetings, ROEM Corporation has been selected to design, develop and manage the site, which will be leased from the city.
"My concern is you are building a ghetto right here," said one resident, who added that — despite the police station located across Franklin Street — neighbors already must put up with the Pacific Euro hotel nearby, which was described as "essentially a halfway house."
Concerns about the project came almost exclusively from the residents of Bryant Place, a 41-unit condo complex next door, who said the city did not notify them that the lot was one of three city-owned lots considered for the development in 2006. Though the selection of the site was reported in the Voice in 2006, neighbors say they had not heard about the project until last year.
"I feel like I overpaid because of it," said one neighbor who bought after 2006 and didn't know about the plans.
Mediators worked with the neighbors to provide focus for the small group discussions, taking notes on butcher paper which will be compiled into a report. One neighbor said he wanted the council to reconsider the site altogether. "It's a whole different City Council" he said, referring to the changes in membership since 2006.
"Those are City Council questions," said a mediator. "We really can't do anything about" the selection of the site.
Most neighbors seemed willing to work with the city to help improve the project's design.
"How are you going to build four stories here without blocking my sunlight?" asked one neighbor, whose windows would directly face the new building.
"We want to look at something nice, like a courtyard," said neighbor Ed Taylor, who added that "we would like property values to increase, not decrease."
Neighbors wanted to be sure that no unsavory people are allowed to move into the new development, and city staff assured neighbors that prospective residents would undergo extensive background checks.
Other concerns included a lack of parking downtown — with the lot taken up for housing and the VTA's plan for a parking structure at the downtown train station on hold.
Longtime downtown resident Bruce Karney provided some perspective for one of the groups, saying downtown was "on the cusp" of becoming an "urban center." He said property values were likely to rise because of several major possible developments, including a six-story hotel at Castro Street and El Camino Real and a possible high speed rail stop downtown.
City planners said the city was requiring "richly detailed" architecture for the building, and open space on 30 percent of the site. Jonathan Emami, vice president for developer ROEM, promised a development "undistinguishable as 'affordable,'" and "of market-rate quality."
Another meeting for neighbors is scheduled in July to focus on the design of the project.