San Carlos Real Estate Agent, San Carlos Realtor San Carlos Downtown Development: Wheeler Plaza | The White Oaks Blog
Downtown San Carlos, Wheeler Plaza November 11, 2008

San Carlos Downtown Development: Wheeler Plaza

by Chuck Gillooley

Hmmm….You’re probably thinking “OK, I’ve lived in San Carlos for quite a few years…why haven’t I heard of Wheeler Plaza?”  If so, you’re not alone — until it was brought to my attention by blog reader Jen, I would have had better luck finding it if I was tossing a dart at a map of San Carlos.  But trust me, if you’ve been to downtown San Carlos, you’ve been to Wheeler Plaza.   And you should know that the City has big plans for this place…

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Where is it?

First of all, where is Wheeler Plaza?  It’s a 1.5 acre site that consists primarily of the big parking lot behind Wells Fargo and Le Boulanger.   I have probably parked there a million times.  Here’s an aerial outline that’s posted on the City of San Carlos Website:

wheeler-plaza.jpg

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What are the plans?

At this time, it appears that the City is in the “Request for Qualifications” mode, which will allow developers to submit ideas on how the land should be developed.  The City applied the following stipulation on what the project must entail:

The Agency is seeking proposals to redevelop the Site into a mixed used project including housing atop ground floor commercial, and a parking structure.

So, it will be interesting to see where this development goes.   Will it look like the 1001 Laurel development that’s nearing completion?  Here’s a informational flyer that has more background information on the project:

Wheeler Plaza Request for Qualification

So, what’s your opinion of this development?    Is it a good idea, or is it too much commercialization of the “City of Good Living”?   Post your comment below!
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Comments 38
  • I welcome it. I really like the Laurel Street downtown in SC, but would love to see an upscale area for mixed use. High quality housing and some new shops would be a great addition and provide additional shopping opportunities at the Northern side of the community

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  • I welcome it, too. There is one thing missing from downtown San Carlos that would be a wonderful addition: a large, high-quality, general-purpose bookstore. (By “general-purpose” I mean not a children’s bookstore or a Christian bookstore.) Perhaps a Borders or a Barnes and Noble. The current Foodville site or the Wheeler Plaza lot would be perfect for a bookstore like that.

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  • I’d say Books Inc would be preferable to a Borders or a Barnes and Noble. This independent bookseller would fit better with San Carlos’ “mom and pop” vibe.

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  • How will the new parking be organized. Currently that parking lot is used frequently and is much needed. I can’t see cutting down the number of parking spaces & a multi-level parking structure does not seem right for San Carlos.

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  • Here’s a comment that was emailed to me:

    “I guess the fact that most of us had no idea of the name of this “plaza” should be enough for us to back redevelopment of it. The Hole-in-One liquor store, et al is definitely a tired corner of downtown that would benefit with some polish. Now that Foodville will be a question mark, it is a good time to revamp that whole corner.”

    Regarding the other topics that were addressed, I too am in favor of a bookstore. I honestly hadn’t thought about that as a possibility until it was brought up in the post, but it’s a great idea. Right now, the closest stores are either in Sequoia Station or Hillsdale, so a bookstore would be a great fit.

    CG

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  • Books Inc is a good alternative to the bookstores I mentioned above. Books Inc, Borders, and Barnes & Noble are all high-quality stores with a nice atmosphere that enhances, rather than diminishes, the neighborhood. And they’re all big enough to provide a good selection and room to browse. San Carlos has traditionally had a mix of locally-owned stores and quality chains like Trader Joe’s.

    I also agree with the comment about parking. Let’s keep enough parking spaces downtown.

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  • Good call on the parking issue. If the 1001 Laurel development is any indication, I imagine they will move the parking spaces underground to preserve the street level for retail.

    Speaking of parking (and traffic,) rest assured that both will be a mess while construction is in process. Losing that many parking spots, plus all of the street spots that will be lost will be a major inconvenience — but a worthwhile price to pay in the long run.

    CG

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  • It would be great if the Foodville location was turned into a book store – we need one in San Carlos. I would rather have the parking lot behind Foodville stay as an open parking lot as it looks like we will loose parking spaces if the city develops that area into a 4 story structure. I reviewed the city’s plans and they want to add 1 story of businesses, 3 stories of apartments and 2 underground stories of parking. So where will the people who live there and work there park? They will park in the underground parking garage….so unless I am missing something that would mean a lot less parking spaces than we have now. We all know how difficult it is to park downtown, so again I would like to keep the open space and the current number of parking spots at Wheeler Plaza.

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  • If an underground parking lot with 2 levels is created, then I would like to see a European type town square (complete with fountain in center!) above ground where the current lot is. It would be surrounded by the new shops/residences. I love the Kepplers/Cafe Barrone concept in MP. There would be enough space to create something like that if the parking goes underground and there would be plenty of places for outdoor seating creating a great gathering place.

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  • I would like to keep the open space and the current number of parking spaces. Do we need to develop every last open space in the downtown area into 4 story structures? I don’t think so….

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  • That’s a wonderful idea. Putting more housing near downtown (and the train station!) will help keep Laurel Street vibrant and healthy. I like housing/retail mixes, and they’ve been successful for other Bay Area cities. I don’t think that asphalted parking lots really count as “open space”.

    And yes, yes, a bookstore would be fabulous.

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  • My husband and I moved to San Carlos (White Oaks) about a year ago from the city. We paid a premium to live here and picked the area mainly for the school. Our son will be entering Kindergarten next year, hopefully, at White Oaks. But we have been told my many friends in the neighborhood that because the school is so over crowded that he may not get in. I have friends that have children in other schools and they are facing the same problem. The schools are all at capacity or beyond capacity. The school district just had a special meeting to address the overcrowding issue. Why is the city planning to add hundreds more apartments and condos? Our schools are so full that even neighborhood children may not be able to go to their neigborhood school. I am told the school district is even looking at redrawing the boundries because the enrollment problems are so bad. Plus, parking downtown is really bad. It sometimes takes me 10 minutes to find a parking place downtown even in the middle of the day. If the city does add hundreds of extra units to our overcrowded city, what will happen to our schools? Will they add more “trailer classrooms” or just send 3rd graders to middle school? Plus where will we park with hundreds more people downtown?

    I am fine adding a multi level parking structure and office space downtown. Actually that would help our parking problems, but I am completely opposed to the city adding more housing units. Does anyone know who at the city I should talk to about this? This issue is so absurd, it makes me think the city and the school district are not even communicating. Is this kind of disconnect typical in San Carlos government?

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  • I agree with “New to San Carlos’s” concerns about adding housing without adding capacity to the schools. I was the person who made post #2 above, where I suggested adding a nice, large bookstore. But what I didn’t think about when I first read the Wheeler Plaza proposal is the added burden on our schools. Back in August I attended the public review of San Carlos’ 30-year General Plan, and in that meeting I raised the same concern about schools: I said any development plan that adds housing *must* ensure that the schools have enough capacity to absorb the housing, or that they add capacity.

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  • San Carlos is already overcrowded. The tag line, “City of Good Living” is obsolete now; it should be renamed, “City of Greedy Living”. Many of us moved to San Carlos years ago to get away from the congestion of the City. Now, it is here upon us. The streets are virtually impassable, with the wall-to-wall cars parked on both sides of the already narrow streets. We’ve lost our privacy with the new McMansions being built in our once quaint neighborhoods. Children are not safe riding their bikes due to the traffic and drivers talking on their cell phones. We don’t need another multi-plex in the middle of downtown. Let’s see how much more taffic is generated with the new complex being built on mid-Laurel before we get into building another one! And, yes, where are the children suppose to go to school, maybe be can bus them to East Palo Alto?

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  • Must we be reminded of the housing area being built on El Camino near the thrift store, across the street from the old Wickersham music store? Bet none of these new up and coming “yuppy” San Carlos residents knew about!! Needless to say, San Carlos is so far from what it once was, that now it reminds me of a Burlingame influence, where it is so overpriced and expensive, that it no longer fits to be called “The city of good living.” This new structure will only make matters worse in an economy that cannott afford to build. Residents will ultimately flip the bill for its thoughtless need. I sure hope it will never pass!!!!!

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  • Here’s another comment that was emailed in:

    “It sucks. Why don’t they try building something that appreciates nature and children. I personally hate developers. Yuck and no way to the plan.”

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  • Does anyone out there know how long the typical waiting list is at the White Oaks
    School? What are the odds of getting your child into the school
    the school with the boundaries as they are currently drawn?

    With regards to comments in #12 above, I agree that it doesn’t make
    sense to add more housing units if it will increase overcrowding in schools.
    I, like others, paid a premium to live in White Oaks with the expectation
    that my child would be able to attend the school that is practically in my backyard!

    One compromise solution: if additional multi-residential unit structures are built
    in San Carlos, they could be sized as studio and one-bedroom only; this will serve to
    minimize the number of families with young children to join the district. (families would be unlikely to buy or rent units of this size) This way the city still gains the tax revenue from sales and prop taxes.
    I agree that adequate parking structure should be factored into the building design to minimize problems with downtown parking.

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  • I’d have to research it further, but I don’t believe there’s a way to give an answer to what is a “typical” waiting list — we’ve seen situations at the schools where there is no waiting list at all, when it’s just a few kids, and when it’s dozens of kids. Over the last couple of years, most students who were on the waiting list at White Oaks actually got in eventually — but that doesn’t mean the system is working well. In practice, it’s a fairly arduous process for both parents and district employees to continually shuffle and rebalance, set kids expectations about going to one school, then another, etc. So, these are some of the reasons why the School Board is looking into boundaries and other potential solutions. Keep in mind that the White Oaks “overcrowding” is part of a much larger problem — one being that White Oaks, unlike some other schools, doesn’t have much “quality space” — meaning that it uses every inch of that campus. So, even the notion of being “full” means something different for WO than it may for another school. Also, we have to look at the Distirct as a whole, where we have one school in particular that continually has slack, and we need to manage that. Lastly, we also have to look at the middle schools’ capacity, as any change in enrollment at individual elementary schools could change the enrollment at the middle schools, and the two middle schools also have very different dynamics (e.g. Tierra Linda having a lot more land — and hence potential growth — than Central, etc.).

    To your second point, the demographic study that the School District commissioned determined that historically these multi-family units actually have yielded relatively few students in the District, and in any case such growth is already factored into our future enrollment projections. I guess what I’m saying is that the School District faces the same boundary/enrollment issues (at White Oaks and otherwise) almost regardless of whether or not these new developments are built.

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  • Seth,
    Is the school district looking at adding back an elementary school as Laureloa Elementary was closed & the land sold back in the 70’s? That decision as well as the Sequoia HS Districts decision to close San Carlos High and sell the land were two of the worst decisions our local government has made.

    I completely disagree with the studies the school district and city have done which determine few families will move into multi-family units. The District Study states “San Carlos must plan for 368 units” in section C5 and this number is not accurate for future residential development in San Carlos. The Transite Village alone will add 281 units, plus the Wheeler Plaza Development units and all of the smaller condo units popping up around San Carlos. Also, the study fails to take into account the fact that San Carlos is not like most cities and attacts are large percentage of families. My family owns apartment buildings downtown San Carlos as well as apartment buildings in other cities. We ALWAYS have a higher percentage of families renting the units (even 1 bedroom units) in San Carlos compared to other cities. This has consistently been the trend over the last few decades.

    I would like to see the district revise the study to accurately account for the new residential units the city is planning on developing. I would also like to see a long term plan from the school district to add back the schools we lost in order to appropriately accomodate our students. This is an critical short and long term investment in our city. Even though my children are grown adults, I would even support a bond measure to add back at the very least another elementary school so our 5th and 6th grade children can still be in elementary school and we have appropriate room for growth.

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  • Richard,

    Although I appreciate your enthusiasm for the schools, and your willingness to support a bond measure to add new schools, frankly I don’t see that in the cards any time soon. San Carlos voters just voted down a parcel tax to fund our schools, so it would be hard to imagine the School Board having the appetite for doing all of things required to add a school — which would include acquiring the land and building a school — with a bond measure.

    And although these enrollment issues are important, they have been trumped lately by the financial crisis. As you may or may not have heard, the District is entering into a serious financial crisis. The combination of the reduction in state funding, the loss of money by the County Treasurer in Lehman Brothers, and the proposed additional cuts by the State based on its current crisis, we are projected to halve our reserve in a single year. We are looking at some serious cuts in our budget which could severely affect our schools. If anything, all efforts will be placed behind solving this problem (which may include a new parcel tax measure).

    I also frankly can’t comment on your disagreement with the enrollment study the District commissioned. You of course have a perspective, but your points are anecdotal, whereas the study was done by a consultant who not only specializes in understanding all of the issues around school enrollment, but also took into account very San Carlos-specific issues, including the extremely low percentage of children that such multi-family residences have historically produced for our schools (which is counter to your assertion above that they attract familes with kids). Like any projection, there are a ton of assumptions, so in no way do we take the results as precise. But you certainly can not fault the study for a lack of thoroughness or a lack of reliance on a lot of hard data. Therefore, I can not imagine a scenario where the District would revise the study any time soon.

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  • I am not a fan of a massive redevelopment of Wheeler Plaza. Where is everyone going to park? The underground structure would probably only serve the residents. Where is the parking to support the shoppers they are hoping to attract. Already, there is limited parking downtown. Also, 1001 Laurel is an ugly monstrosity, a huge 4 story development would be an eyesore, just as 1001 Laurel Street is awful. Parking on that end of San Carlos is now hard, I use the nail shop, and two doctors across from that development and already it is hard to find parking, most of the time I park several blocks away on residential streets.

    I agree most families don’t buy a small overpriced condo, even in San Carlos. But, the school board needs to realize that they need a boundary change now. There is plenty of room at Heather, but the board is not promoting Heather as a top school in the district. Heather faces several challenges that don’t face our other schools and they do so with great success, namely educating the Tinsley transfer students. The board has chosen not to stand strong behind Heather and the work that they do and change the boundaries.

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  • Katelyn,

    Thanks for writing in. Two quick points…

    First, I think the School District is considering boundary changes, but I don’t know how or if it will impact Heather. Seth Rosenblatt talks a little bit about it on his blog (his link is in the right sidebar under San Carlos Schools.) I’ll also ask him if there’s any news in this area.

    Second, I will be posting an update on the plans for Wheeler Plaza in the next few days. That may shed some more light on what may potentially happen with the site.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    CG

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  • Chuck — thanks for clarifying. Yes, the school board is considering boundary changes, and any changes contemplated absolutely would affect Heather (i.e. adding more “territory” in the Heather area). However, the Board’s progress on finalizing this has been slower than some of us would like — this is largely due to the pending budget crisis and the shift of focus to our budget for this year, potential cuts, a new parcel tax, etc.

    However, boundary changes are on the agenda for this Thursday’s meeting (Jan 22), but I suspect we’ll mostly discuss the timing on when we can come to a decision. Please note that it’s not as easy as making a decision and implementing it. Because we are a “charter” school district, we are not permitted by our charter to unilaterally change boundaries. We must get a waiver from the State, and I do not know how long or difficult that process is.

    I certainly encourage anyone who would like to express an opinion to the board about potential boundary changes (or any other issue) to attend a board meeting. The calendar can be found at http://sancarlos.csbaagendaonline.net/cgi-bin/WebObjects/sancarlos-eAgenda.woa/wa/displayCalendar.

    Seth

    Seth

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  • I was downtown San Carlos today at 11am and it took me 15 minutes to find a parking spot. I drove down Laurel, through Wheeler Plaze and the parking lot BofA without any luck. I finally found a parking spot on Elm Street.

    Folks, our parking is very bad as it is and if the city has their way, they will take away many of our parking spaces with the development of Wheeler Plaza. We need every parking space we have.

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  • Richard,

    You’re right — the parking situation all the way down the north stretch of Laurel is becoming horrendous. I don’t know how the city can absorb that loss of parking even while Wheeler Plaza is under construction.

    Thanks for your comments…

    CG

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  • I think the downtown parking situation is difficult but we all must realize that you don’t necessarily need to park right in front of your destination. It doesn’t hurt to walk a few blocks, especially if you can park safely on a side street and minimize the risk of another door ding on your car. A brief search for alternative parking (surrounding streets north of San Carlos Ave are often sparsely occupied) may serve to be fruitful.

    We are fortunate to have wonderful weather here and we can all use more exercise. PLUS there is no metered parking at all in downtown (probably just a matter of time), so be thankful that if you park a few blocks from your destination, you don’t have to worry about a ticket, keeping small change handy, feeding a meter or moving your car. No meters is a HUGE plus in our downtown area…can you say that about Burlingame, Redwood City, San Mateo or Palo Alto?

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  • I wonder when the city will want to put in the parking meters….it is just a matter of time – they have their city pensions to pay for! Then I can drive around for 15 minutes AND pay for parking.

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  • I have had several White Oaks friends tell me about a new grassroots group that is trying to put an end to the over development of our city. I will be signing the petition! This all over White Oaks now and the momentum is growing!

    http://sancarloscoalition.blogspot.com/

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  • I think “over development” is an unfair characterization of San Carlos. We all need to realize that this area of the peninsula is highly desired and as long as our open space is not being infringed upon, San Carlos needs to attract residents and business to sustain its desirability. Would we rather see more empty store fronts and see homeless people and drug dealers hanging around the downtown area?

    Development (smart development) breeds activity and increased business in our downtown area (and isn’t that the reason for a downtown area?). Those who feel squeezed can move up into the hills for a little less activity, but really, San Carlos is a wonderful place to live and work. By virtue of its location, it will never be sleepy.

    It is vital that we have community involvement in the development and IMPROVEMENT of San Carlos. Make your thoughts known, but do not stifle the interest for companies and residents to come to San Carlos. We just need a viable long-term vision and need to stick to it. Unless you want significantly higher costs for the services we enjoy, we require businesses and property values to prop up our infrastructure.

    It really does surprise me how many people complain about how “crowded” it is downtown. This is not Portola Valley or Woodside. Coupled with our wonderful weather, accessability, and proximity to the coast and the city, I see this energy as such an integral piece of just why San Carlos is and should remain the city of good living.

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  • Let me guess, Michael, you work for the city or one of the developers trying to over develop our city?

    Sorry, I don’t agree with your message that if we don’t develop our city we will have “empty store fronts and see homeless people and drug dealers hanging around the downtown area.” This city is full of very intelligent people; you had better come up with some better rhetoric.

    By the way, I checked out the new blog for the grassroots organization & it is right on! http://sancarloscoalition.blogspot.com/ Thanks New to San Carlos for telling us about it.

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  • Just trying to show the other side of the coin; I have no affiliation to development or the city of San Carlos. I work from home when I am not traveling and am downtown almost every day.

    What vibrant downtown area does not have parking issues and growing pains? (I think ours are so minor)

    How can anyone say that Wheeler Plaza does not need a revamp? Do we want to see the Hole in One Liquor store and nondescript storefronts “welcoming” people into San Carlos? Do we want developers (and their money) to ignore San Carlos?

    I think community involvement is essential to successful city development, but the knee jerk reaction of “development is bad” is getting very tired.

    Of course drug dealers and shuttered store fronts may sound like an exaggeration, but how many of us remember the downtown San Jose of the 70’s and 80’s? I know San Jose is much larger than San Carlos and may seem like an extreme example, but I think the fundamentals still apply.

    San Jose is now a nicely planned downtown that offers museums, restaurants, theaters, hotels. shopping and parking. San Carlos, keeping its size in mind, can be similar in that it offers the best of larger cities on a smaller scale.

    I think the fact that, in this economy, interest in San Carlos development is high, we should see it as an opportunity to make our voices heard, exchange RATIONAL ideas, and have an active role in shaping the future of San Carlos.

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  • I agree with Michael’s comments. I feel that the angry posts to Wheeler Plaza are just knee-jerk reactions. The city has made no secret of the fact that it has been looking to redevelop Wheeler Plaza for years. Any development that goes in will have to provide adequate parking for the residents, and the surrounding businesses. For all the people who are upset about this possible development, I encourage you to get involved. I currently sit on the General Plan Advisory Committee, and last night we were discussing Land Use in San Carlos. We wrote in language that would encourage the city to find more areas for parking around Laurel. There were 4 members of the public who attended the meeting which is normal. People love to complain and rant about bad government, but decisions are made by those who show up. If you don’t like what is being proposed make sure to attend a city council meeting and let them know, don’t write your complaints on a blog and believe that they will carry some weight. But more importantly than complaining, volunteer, get appointted to a commission, attend meetings, and help steer San Carlos to a future that will benefit us all.

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  • I guess it’s you and me Andy…I plan on being at the meeting on Monday and hope to hear constructive ideas from both sides. It is my opinion that our downtown has nicely improved since we moved here from San Mateo in 2003. I hope to meet many of those who use this blog. Andy makes some good points to those who have expressed concern and disdain for development and I agree…PLEASE get involved beyond your computers and may calm heads prevail.

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  • I attended the city council meeting last night and witnessed very rational exchange from the council members. For those who are worried about this project, I truly hope they were there. Not only did the majority of the council seem cautious and measured, Matt Grocott will surely represent those who want to make sure that the Wheeler Plaza project does not ruin our downtown. His ideas are very conservative and he will fight for his vision. There was a tense moment between him and Brad Lewis regarding an option to stop the project if it is deemed no longer viable, but when all was said and done, they were unanimous in voting to partner with Silverstone to explore the project further.

    Clearly this is a long term project that will involve the public in every step. Our responsibility as San Carlos homeowners is to participate in the shaping of this project.

    I am onboard; let’s see how “WE” can improve our downtown together!

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  • Blog reader Tom emailed me the following insightful comment. (Re-posted here with his permission..)
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    “I too attended the meeting Monday night and all I have to say is thank the universe that Matt Grocott is on the City Council. At least there in one voice of reason on the Council. My feeling was the other Council members were pretty much been ready to move forward on the project. I hope all of the residents who are alarmed about the Wheeler Plaza project will give of their time to attend the meetings and canvass their neighborhoods to make sure the residents have input on how the project, if approved, will look and that it will be in the best interest of the residents and downtown merchants, and not the developer. Get involved, get your neighbors involved. Offer to drive your older neighbors to the meetings, etc. If this project is allowed to begin, there will be no turning back.”
    ————————————
    Thanks for your comment Tom!

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  • Awful ! Awful ! Awful ! The reason many of us love San Carlos is because
    of its quaint and charming, unique flavor and LACK OF commercialism, multi-level
    buildings. There a plenty of side streets to park on if parking lots are full. I detest the condo-complexes that are sprouting up, blocking views in our San Carlos and I distaste parking in a parking garage. So that kind of extra parking not only is no
    asset to me, it hardly compensates for the erecting of some multi-level commercial buiiding ! Yuck !

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    • Hi Nancie,

      Thanks for your comments. The Wheeler Plaza topic has generated by far the most comments on this site, even more than the elementary school situation (which is a HOT button right now.)

      This is going to be an interesting process once it gets going in full swing. There should be some public “information gathering” sessions that the developer will be hosting which will allow them to understand the public sentiment on what residents of San Carlos want and don’t want with this project. I will be posting an update shortly on the project that will hopefully have those dates in it.

      Chuck

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    • How about putting in a new San Carlos High School?

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