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City of San Carlos Moves to Limit Chain Stores Downtown.

Plantation

That Laurel Street Feel.

In the 26 years that I have lived in San Carlos, I have watched our downtown evolve from a sleepy collection of Mom & Pop stores that closed up promptly at 5:00, to a bustling center of eclectic shops and restaurants that pack in shoppers and diners from all over the peninsula. But throughout that gradual transformation, the downtown has always kept a “home-spun” feel to it.  With the exception of the obligatory big-name coffee shops that proliferate every downtown, Laurel Street has always kept that vibe of “one-up” type of stores, many of which are indeed owned and operated by local families.

Like many residents of San Carlos, I simply assumed that the decidedly anti-chain feel of Laurel Street was the result of some sort of top-secret City mandate that prevented big, nationwide chain stores from setting up shop on Laurel Street. For as long as I can remember, there have always been rumors about name-brand stores snatching up the rare vacancies that cropped up along the north stretch of Laurel Street.  Apple Store, anyone?  How about the Restoration Hardware rumor?  Yep, you’ve heard them too.

But they’ve never materialized.

I was quite surprised when I contacted my sources in City Hall a few months back while researching information about the Wheeler Plaza project to discover that there actually isn’t anything in the municipal code that prevents the big boys from grabbing a Laurel Street address. Quite to contrary, the City could really only dictate what type of function a particular location could be used for, but not necessarily who could open up there.

As it turns out, the people most responsible for maintaining the charm of downtown San Carlos are the landlords – the handful of owners of the buildings who rent the space to all of our favorite stores. For many years, they’ve simply opted to keep the feel of Laurel Street very much the same as it has always been, even throughout the rapid transformation of the last decade.

But that may now change.

Change on the Horizon.

As we have known for a few years, the landscape of Laurel Street is going to change…dramatically. Groundbreaking for the mammoth Wheeler Plaza project is just around the corner and that will completely transform the look and feel of the popular north stretch of Laurel.

But more recently, and much less publicized event took place that fostered a whole new round of rumors, and prompted one city leader to take action. The property at 652 Laurel Street, which has housed local favorites such as Plantation Coffee Roastery and Taqueria Mi Ranchito, has been sold to a developer and they’ve given the current tenants the boot. This has once again stirred up the rumor mill that chain stores would soon start creeping onto Laurel Street.

With very little formal power to review or limit which businesses could ultimately open up in the downtown area, Vice Mayor Cameron Johnson introduced an urgent measure to the City Council which would require chain stores to obtain a conditional use permit before opening up. This would give residents a vehicle to have their voices heard by community leaders before permission would be formally given for a business to open up. The ordinance would be in effect for the next 45 days, which buys the City time to implement permanent zoning measures.  The ordinance was passed at the most recent City Council Meeting.

There are two very good articles written by Bill Silverfarb of the Daily Journal which discuss this issue in much greater detail. You can access them by clicking here and here.

Does this mean that there will be chain stores coming soon to San Carlos? Or should there be? Only time will tell — but at least now residents will have a say in that decision.
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Public Meeting Tonight on San Carlos Wheeler Plaza Project.

WheelerSiteArea_1

Still Alive.

The Wheeler Plaza redevelopment concept is something that has been discussed in quite a bit of detail on this site over the past two years.   There have been several posts, lots of comments, and even a poll that gauged the public’s opinion on the concept (most were positive on the idea.)  There’s even an entire sub-category dedicated to Wheeler Plaza on this site.

Even though there hasn’t been much in the news about the Wheeler Plaza concept lately, don’t think that work hasn’t been going on behind the scenes.   The City of San Carlos along with their development partner Silverstone Communities have been working diligently to create an Environmental Impact Report, and has now drafted up potential options for redeveloping the entire Wheeler Plaza parcel.  If you’ve read through the EIR, there are some very interesting graphical renditions of how the project may look when it is completed, like this one (elevation from San Carlos Avenue)…

Wheeler Plaza conceptual sketch - Laurel Street/San Carlos Avenue

Public Meeting Tonight.

Tonight, the City of San Carlos is holding a meeting to solicit public feedback on the project.  If you have strong feelings one way or the other on the proposed project, or just want to find out more about what’s planned, this would be a great meeting to attend.  Here are the details:

Wheeler Plaza Development Concept Meeting
When: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Where: San Carlos Library, 610 Elm Street, Second Floor Meeting Rooms
Time: 7:00 PM

Funding Challenges.

One challenge that is likely equally as large as all of the design considerations is how this project is going to be funded, and the purse strings for this extend all the way to the California Supreme Court.   According to Mark Sawicki, Economic Development and Housing Manager for the City of San Carlos, the pending Supreme Court litigation on AB26 and AB27 will play a significant role in funding options for this project.   If the decision does not result in the San Carlos RDA being dissolved, then the Planning Commission want to have consideration of the Wheeler Plaza project ready to move forward as soon as possible.  If the San Carlos RDA is dissolved (if AB 26 stands while AB27 is struck down) the City and the developer will have to look at alternative options for funding, and determine if the project is even financially feasible.
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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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Wheeler Plaza Development in San Carlos: 3 Reasons Why it Needs to Happen.

WheelerSiteArea_1

Time for a Change.

The other morning while I was making my normal run for sourdough bread at Le Boulanger (if you haven’t tried their fresh sliced sourdough, it’s out of this world), I was struck by how much of an eyesore the rear parking area behind the building has become.  Sure, during business hours it serves a valuable purpose as a main downtown parking area.  But during non-business hours, it’s just vast sea of empty parking spaces that’s sometimes strewn with litter on windy days.  For those of you who may not know, that very area on the corner of Walnut Street and San Carlos Avenue (including many of the buildings), is a city-owned plot of land known as Wheeler Plaza.  And for the past couple of years, the City has been investigating different ways that it might re-develop that entire site.

I hope the City will be able to take one of those solutions beyond the idea stage and actually re-develop this prime area of San Carlos, because there are three key reasons why it needs to happen: >>> Click Here to Read the Full Post
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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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Public Input Sought on San Carlos Wheeler Plaza Redevelopment.

Wheeler Plaza

Community Meeting.

It has been a while since the San Carlos Wheeler Plaza redevelopment concept has been in news.  But the City of San Carlos, along with development partner Silverstone Communities, has been steadily working on concepts of what to do — if anything — with the existing Wheeler Plaza site in downtown San Carlos.  The most recent concept that I saw being discussed was for a multi-story, mixed residential/retail complex where the parking lot is currently situated.    But that may have changed…

A big part of Silverstone’s involvement in the early stages of conceptual development is to gather ideas and feedback from San Carlos business owners and residents about what should be done with this location.   As such, they are holding a community meeting next week to solicit input from those stakeholders.   Here are the details of the meeting, as outlined on the City website:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 7:00 p.m.
San Carlos Library, 2nd Floor, Conference Rooms A & B

The City of San Carlos has been working with Silverstone Communities to explore the potential for redevelopment of the downtown surface parking lot known as Wheeler Plaza. Several city owned buildings adjacent to the parking lot would also be included in the site area.

This meeting will be an opportunity to brief property and business owners, community leaders, neighbors and interested citizens on the project and to hear and understand the issues and concerns of various stakeholders.

For those of you interested in what our downtown may look like in the next decade, this should be a very interesting meeting!

 
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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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Important Meetings This Week in San Carlos.

Mark your calendars! If you’re interested in the future direction of San Carlos schools or the downtown development, or if you just need a reason to procrastinate your holiday shopping even more, there are a couple of important meetings that are happening this week. I’ve already highlighted them in their respective posts, but it’s worth reminding you of them again:

Town Hall: San Carlos Schools.

Tonight – November 30. This meeting is being hosted by San Carlos School District Superintendent Dr. Craig Baker to discuss the District’s proposal to re-draw the school boundaries in order to alleviate the chronic over-enrollment problems. All of the elementary school principals will be in attendance at this meeting as well. Here are meeting details:

Monday, November 30
7:30 PM
San Carlos Library: 610 Elm Street
Conf Room A, Second Floor

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Wheeler Plaza Community Forum.

The City of San Carlos would love to hear your input on what should be done (if anything) with their Wheeler Plaza parcel, which we know better as the parking lot behind Wells Fargo Bank and Le Boulanger.   This meeting is an integral part of the “listening phase” of the Wheeler Plaza concept, so if you have any ideas about what should be done, including leaving it as-is, be sure to attend this meeting.  Here are the meeting details:

Wednesday, December 2
7:00 PM
San Carlos Library: 610 Elm Street
Conf Rooms A&B, Second Floor

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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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Community Meeting on Wheeler Plaza: December 2nd…

The City of San Carlos announced that it will be holding its first community-wide forum to get feedback from residents on its Wheeler Plaza development concept.  For those of you not familiar with Wheeler Plaza, it’s the city-owned parcel that’s right behind the Wells Fargo and Le Boulanger on Laurel Street — see the map above.   The idea being kicked around is to develop the existing parcel into a retail/residential complex that will There’s an entire category on this site that’s dedicated to the Wheeler Plaza concept — click here to read those posts and corresponding comments.

Like every development idea that has been proposed recently in San Carlos, Wheeler Plaza has evoked some pretty strong opinions both for and against the idea.   But it’s important to remember that this is just a concept right now — there are no plans in place, nor is it even an approved project.  But if you have an opinion about the City’s ideas on Wheeler Plaza, or you’d like to find out more about the idea,  be sure to attend this meeting.  Here are the details:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 7:00 p.m.
Conference Rooms A&B, 2nd Floor
San Carlos Library, 610 Elm Street

For additional information on the meeting, visit this page on the City of San Carlos website.
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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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San Carlos Wheeler Plaza enters the “Listening Phase”….

Wheeler Plaza

Aside from posts that I’ve written on San Carlos Schools, the proposed Wheeler Plaza project is easily the most read and commented topic on this site. For those of you who are not familiar with it, Wheeler Plaza is a city-owned parcel that’s outlined in the picture above. You’ll recognize this area as the parking lot behind Le Boulanger and Wells Fargo, and it includes some surrounding structures. Last year, the City of San Carlos started the wheels turning (no pun intended) to gather ideas on how to develop this area into a mixed retail/living complex.   To see all of the posts on this site about Wheeler Plaza, click here.  There’s also some good info on the City of San Carlos website.

The latest development happened earlier this year when the City chose Silverstone Communities as the design and development firm.   Silverstone has lots of experience with projects like these, as they recently completed similar high-end projects in Millbrae and Los Altos.    Silverstone was a smart choice — they’re based in Redwood City, so they’re local and they understand the unique vibe that makes San Carlos what it is.

This past week, I sat down with Jeff Gilman, Silverstone’s Director of Acquisitions.  Jeff is spearheading a project to gather community feedback on how Wheeler Plaza could best serve the City of San Carlos (more on that below.)  From his research, which includes all of your comments on this site, Jeff is keenly aware how sensitive this topic is,  and he also understands that there are misconceptions that surround Wheeler Plaza.   So part of the information-gathering phase is also to set some of these perceptions straight.

Here are my notes from my meeting with Jeff…

It’s an idea, not a project.

This is probably the most important point that the City and Silverstone are trying to get across.    Right now, the  renovation of  Wheeler Plaza is just an idea that the City is considering.  No plans have been made, and nothing has been committed to this idea to date, short of Silverstone’s involvement to gather information.   The City could very easily decide to do nothing at this point… But it’s obvious that whatever they do, they want community input and consensus, which is good.

Vision and Design

In it’s most basic form, the city envisions Wheeler Plaza as a multi-level residential/retail complex.   Even though no plans have been drawn, there are some parameters that will likely be adhered to:

  1. Condos, not apartments.    Most likely, the residential side of the complex will be “for sale”, not rentals.  Current figure is approximately 100 units.
  2. Parking.  There are currently 187 parking slots in the existing parking lot.  Any new project will need to preserve this number, at a minimum.
  3. Asthetics.  Key consideration will be made to blend the structure in to the surroundings, such as intelligent use of setbacks and gradual height increase, so that it will not be a huge, looming structure.
  4. No change to Laurel Street.   Since the existing buildings that face Laurel Street (WFB, Le Boulanger, etc..) are not part of the project, there will be no change to the storefronts on Laurel.

What about the Schools?

In light of the enrollment crunch this fall with several San Carlos elementary schools, the impact on adding more living space will likely be one of the biggest objections to this idea.   But according to demographic studies that Silverstone has conducted, it’s only expected that 8-10% of these units will be occupied by families with school age children.   So if these calculations hold true, the impact on school enrollment should be minimal.  And if you factor in the school fees that this structure will generate, there may indeed a silver lining for the San Carlos School District.

What’s next?

Over the next 90 days or so, Silverstone will be conducting some community outreach exercises to get input on the future of Wheeler Plaza — a listening phase, for lack of a better term.   If you’re interested in expressing your opinion on Wheeler Plaza, Jeff welcomes you to send him an email at this address:

As always, feel free to post your comments on this site as well.    I’ll be sure to keep you posted as things progress…

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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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2 Reasons Why You Should Attend Tonight’s San Carlos City Council Meeting…

sc-citycouncil-2008

If you have ever considered attending a San Carlos City Council Meeting but were waiting for a compelling reason to go, tonight’s meeting might just be the opportunity you have been waiting for.   In this meeting, which begins at 7:00 PM in the City Council Chambers, there will be two topics discussed that should be on interest to you:

What’s on tap?

Among the normal agenda items that are covered in a Council Meeting, here are the two specific topics that I thought would be of interest.  I copied this excerpt directly from the Agenda:

9.

PUBLIC HEARING

a.

Consideration of introducing an ordinance authorizing an increase in sewer rates by seven percent for Fiscal Year 2009/10 (Proposition 218 public hearing).

10.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

a.

Consideration and selection of development partner for potential development of Wheeler Plaza (Generally bounded by Walnut, Cherry, San Carlos Avenue and Laurel streets).(Continued from February 12, 2009).

Why is this important?

Sewer Rates

The City is looking to raise approximately $500,000 in additional revenue by raising the sewer rates by 7%.   This will likely pass unless there is significant vocal opposition.    Based on the resistance to pass a School Bond Measure in San Carlos, I would imagine any sort of property tax assessment increase should generate the interest of the citizens.

Wheeler Plaza

The Wheeler Plaza Development has unwittingly become the lightning rod for the anti-development sentiment in San Carlos.   It is hands-down the most highly commented topic on this site, and there are other sites that have zeroed in on this development in there efforts to enforce responsible development of the downtown area.    Tonight’s agenda item will be to choose a development partner to for the project.

So if either of these topics is near and dear to you, or if you just want to see the how the political machine works in San Carlos, tonight might be a good night to catch an early dinner in downtown San Carlos and then get involved in the political process.

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Welcome to to the White Oaks Blog — the most widely read blog dedicated to the San Carlos real estate market! Have blog updates sent to you automatically by subscribing for free by clicking here. Be sure to follow the White Oaks Blog on Facebook at https://Facebook.com/WhiteOaksBlog , and on Twitter @WhiteOaksBlog.
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