988 El Camino Real – South San Francisco has seen an influx of both commercial and residential development projects

San Francisco Business Journal

March 29, 2018

In South San Francisco, transit is king, at least among housing developers.

The city could welcome close to 2,800 new homes in the next several years clustered around the city’s BART and Caltrain stations. So far, close to 1,200 are under construction or proposed from developers including Sares Regis Group of Northern California, SummerHill Homes and Roem Corp.

In addition, Bella Vista Land Advisors, a real estate brokerage and development firm, is looking at adding more than 800 homes at three different sites to the pipeline. On top of that, a 6-acre, city-owned property could usher in another 800 homes.

“It’s not just about housing a lot of people — it’s about building an integrated, transit-oriented community,” said Alex Greenwood, the city’s economic development director. “We know we have a housing shortage. It’s reflected in the skyrocketing housing prices. If we keep building housing the way we have, we’ll have more traffic and sprawl.”

Sam Gleason, head of Bella Vista, said the rush of new housing comes down to one key driver: jobs.

“Developers are trying to respond to the needs of the biotech companies that are growing at a very fast pace,” he said.

The city of about 67,000 people is known as the biggest biotech hub on the West Coast with more than 200 biotech companies. City officials have projected the industry could add more than 18,000 new jobs within the next 10 to 15 years.

One of the largest employers, cancer drugmaker Genentech, is crafting plans to double the size of its campus and workforce from about 11,000 employees in South San Francisco today.

Most of the biotech companies operate on the east side of Highway 101. To the west of the highway, sits the historic downtown, shopping centers and single-family home neighborhoods.

To accommodate the job growth and housing demand, city leaders want to see new housing within walking distance of the city’s BART and Caltrain stations, which are about two-and-a-half miles apart from each other. The BART station is off of El Camino Real in the northern side of town while the Caltrain station is on the edge of downtown. The city is the middle of relocating the station, which had been under a highway overpass, to a more pedestrian-friendly part of downtown.

Bella Vista has three sites in the early development stages including one it is in contract to buy at 40 Airport Blvd. that could accommodate 275 apartments. The firm is also handling two land sales for other developers that are in contract. One is a 4.2-acre site at 7 S. Linden St. for about 445 units and other is a site for 108 homes at 200 Airport Blvd.

Gleason is targeting former industrial properties and underutilized parking lots or retail buildings to transform into housing. He said the city’s bustling downtown with dozens of restaurants and shops is already a destination and will see a burst of activity from new residents.

“I see (housing development) as a potential driver for real revitalization of downtown South San Francisco,” he said. “A lot of people will have the opportunity to leave their car at home or not even need a car. It’s really the ultimate in smart growth: You can walk to dinner, coffee or transit or take a shuttle to work at one of the biotech companies.”

The three Bella Vista sites are within five minutes of the Caltrain station in or near the city’s downtown, which the city upzoned to encourage more dense housing development.

So far, it appears the plan is working. San Mateo-based Sares Regis has plans for 455 apartments in its Cadence project. The first, 260-unit phase at 101 Miller Ave. will be complete early next year. The developer recently proposed a second, 195-unit phase, at 405 Cypress Ave. that could take at least three years to build out.

Meanwhile, across the street from the city’s BART station developer City Ventures is close to wrapping up at South City Place, 35 townhomes at 1256 Mission Road.

Developer SummerHill Apartment Communities recently secured approval to build 172 apartments at 988 El Camino Real about a mile from the BART station. The project will include 11,000 square feet of retail space and amenities.

“We are excited to move forward with this landmark transit-oriented development,” said Manny Gonzalez, managing principal KTGY’s Los Angeles office, the architecture firm that designed the apartments. “We know that the design, planned amenities and community benefits will be a tremendous asset.”

At press time on Wednesday, the City of South San Francisco was close to selecting a developer for a 6-acre, city owned property on Mission Road about a half-mile from the BART station and near El Camino Real.

The two finalists for the site are AGI Avant Inc. and KASA Partners, which have proposed 812 units, and Blake Griggs, which are aiming between 790 and 847 homes.

The site is off of El Camino Real, a major commercial thoroughfare along the Peninsula.

The two final proposals are “very exciting,” Greenwood said. “There’s a real opportunity to create a new community.”