"It's a little more than an acre parcel and absolutely appropriate to consider putting housing on for school staff," said Council member Rick DeGolia.
Mayor Bill Widmer is also supportive of the idea. Since part of the school is already in Atherton, the town already provides services to the property. He suggested it be rezoned for 20 units per acre.
"I think it's a very viable thing," he said.
The need to plan for housing comes from a state mandate to plan for the development of 348 new housing units, per its 2023-31 Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). The council scrambled to approve a plan to send to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) by the Jan. 31 deadline, fearing fees, lawsuits and the threat of the state taking over development in town.
The council is exploring more options for housing, but won't make any changes to its plan, called a housing element, until the state weighs in on its draft, expected to be around 60 days after its Jan. 31 submission.
The town would need to file an application through the San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) to annex land.
Council member Stacy Miles Holland was skeptical of the idea.
"How long does annexing take?" she said. "Annexing sounds very exotic and interesting but it doesn't seem like it's going to get us compliant in our next round (with HCD)."
Ultimately the decision to build housing would be up to the Redwood City School District, which runs the elementary school. The Almanac has reached out to the district to ask about its potential interest in developing staff housing at the site but did not get a response prior to its Wednesday press deadline.
Council member Diana Hawkins Manuelian said she reached out to the school but didn't get very far in her discussions. She suggested looking at Fifth Avenue as a place for additional housing, but other council members said land on that stretch doesn't fit with the character of Atherton.
City Manager George Rodericks said that the town should begin a discussion about annexing the school but he doesn't think it's going to impact the housing element's certification.
"It's still a little speculative," he said.
Response to resident plan
In an 11-page letter, the resident advocacy group Atherton Housing Coalition asked the council to remove from the housing element 23 Oakwood Blvd., near the home of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, which the owner wants to develop into townhouses. The group also wants changes to the council-approved element such as adding public land owned by the town and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
The town will continue to explore developing the Gilmore House in Holbrook-Palmer Park for multifamily housing. The council directed staff to notify residents who live near the home that it could be developed into multifamily housing.
DeGolia has expressed concerns that the town could lose the park to Stanford University if it tries to build housing on the site, as it would go against restrictions in the deed giving the Holbrook-Palmer property to the town for use as a public park. The coalition disagrees.
"Any housing located on the premises will be built as a replacement for the Gilmore House and will be an incidental use featuring high quality architecture which will not interfere with the primary use and enjoyment of the park," the group wrote.
Widmer said he didn't want to notify all properties under consideration because it could incite opposition from residents at locations that aren't necessarily going to be part of the plan. He referenced residents who live along the El Camino Real corridor who wore red shirts at previous meetings that read "#Not Going Anywhere" in opposition to a plan to upzone their properties to allow for higher density housing.
Widmer said the Gilmore House site could be a good spot for housing people with disabilities or seniors.
Another site under consideration, and recommended by the coalition, is to rezone the fire department's 28 Almendral Ave. property to the PFS (public facilities school) designation. The coalition suggests building four workforce housing units there.
The fire department bought 28 Almendral Ave. in 2017 for $4.6 million, according to Zillow and The Almanac's archives. The property currently has a single family home on a 0.9 acre lot. It sits next to Fire Station 3. A 2017-28 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report was somewhat critical of the district's decision to purchase the property, noting that a recent report had recommended that Station 3 should be relocated to the west, not expanded at its current location.
Rodericks said the fire district is discussing developing housing at the site as part of its labor discussions. The fire district could also offload the property to the town.
He said workforce-only housing could be considered exclusionary by HCD though.
The council nixed the idea of developing the town's corporation yard, a small strip of land owned by the town along the train tracks that's used for storing equipment.
With town setbacks, the developable land on the site would be just 35 feet wide by 200 feet long, said Rodericks. Equipment would need to be moved to the park.
At the same meeting, the council approved an ordinance that limits targeted picketing outside of homes within 300 feet of a home. There will also be a $1,000 fine for violating the ordinance. After a verbal warning, if a person continues to violate the ordinance, they will be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The ordinance came about after organized protests in front of a home on Carolina Lane this winter.
It's unclear what the picketers were protesting. The resident said he was targeted by the "unhinged" protesters because of a court case involving a relative.
The council considered an earlier version of the ordinance in January. The homeowner asked for the town to add a clause that would allow for misdemeanor charges because he feared the fine and distance limits would not be enough to deter the protest organizer.
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