North Fair Oaks MTC FOCUS Station Area Planning Grant





North Fair Oaks


North Fair Oaks is an unincorporated community in southeast San Mateo County, south of Redwood City and west of Menlo Park. The area is primarily residential, with some light industrial uses and a small number of commercial establishments. The community has roughly 15,000 residents and approximately 4,000 housing units. The main transportation routes are Highway 82/El Camino Real and Middlefield Road. State Highway 101 also passes along the Bay shoreline slightly northeast of North Fair Oaks. Caltrain runs directly through the area, but there are no stops in North Fair Oaks.


Most zoning in North Fair Oaks is residential, with small stretches of commercial zoning along El Camino and Middlefield, and areas of industrial zoning at the junction of Middlefield and Southside Avenues, and slightly north of Middlefield at Spring Street (as shown on Map 2). In all, 80% of land uses in the area are residential, 15% are industrial, and 5% are commercial. Residential zoning densities range from 2 units/acre to 17 units/acre, but most existing housing and residential zoning is at low densities. Commercial and other non-residential uses, as well as mixed-use development, are precluded in the areas of North Fair Oaks that are zoned for residential uses.


Public transit in the area is provided by San Mateo County Transit (SamTrans). SamTrans routes 296, 297, and 397 run on Middlefield Road, and routes KX, PX, and RX and 390 run on El Camino Real. The nearest Caltrain stop is in Atherton, beyond easy walking distance.


North Fair Oaks is one of the most populated areas in the unincorporated County, and has some of the greatest concentrations of low-income households. Although the area has several distinct portions, encompassing different socioeconomic strata, it has a significant lower and lower-middle income population that is disproportionately affected by the costs of housing, transportation, and other services. North Fair Oaks was designated a Priority Development Area under the FOCUS Program in 2007.


Vision for Station Area and Place Type


The vision for North Fair Oaks is of a diverse, transit-centered neighborhood with a broad array of housing types, densities, and costs, with sufficient local retail and commercial establishments to meet local needs and provide significant employment opportunities. Given the area’s primarily residential nature, with relatively few commercial and retail establishments, and the current lack of ready access to high-speed rail service, the most realistic and attainable neighborhood typology for North Fair Oaks is a transit neighborhood. The neighborhood would consist of a variety of moderate- to high-density housing and community- and neighborhood-serving retail, clustered at highest densities along major transit routes, with gradually decreasing densities further from transit. Existing industrial uses would be retained, but some unused or under-utilized industrially zoned land could be rezoned for residential and mixed uses.


The station area would consist of a “dual” transit corridor, with two major transportation and transit routes, Middlefield Road and El Camino Real. The transit corridor and station area would be along and between these routes, encompassing the area shown on Map 1. As noted above, SamTrans routes 296, 297, and 397 run on Middlefield Road, and routes KX, PX, RX and 390 run on El Camino Real. Routes KX, PX and RX are express routes connecting San Mateo, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, SFO and San Francisco. Routes 296, 297, 390 and 397 connect to either BART or Caltrain, or both. Intensification of development along El Camino and Middlefield would increase use of these regional transit routes and strengthen North Fair Oaks’ connection to other parts of the Bay Area.


Zoning along these two routes would be at high densities that permit and encourage a mix of residential and commercial uses. A focus on higher-density housing would help create sufficient local demand to sustain local-serving retail and commercial uses that would be permitted and encouraged by new zoning and other policies. El Camino Real is currently the more heavily used transportation route, and provides the main express transit service connecting North Fair Oaks with other parts of the Peninsula. This route would be the focus of the highest development intensities, while Middlefield Road would provide a secondary transit thoroughfare, with lower but still relatively high densities situated along the Road. Densities would remain relatively high between the two routes, and would gradually decline northeast of Middlefield Road. Prioritization of El Camino Real as a mixed-use, higher density corridor, potentially with HOV lanes, is also consistent with the Grand Boulevard Initiative, which envisions El Camino as the primary transit route linking all communities on the Peninsula.


Type of Plan


The MTC FOCUS Station Area Planning Grant would be used to create an updated area plan for North Fair Oaks. As described in greater detail below, the existing North Fair Oaks Community Plan was created in 1979. Conditions in the area, and the needs of community residents, have changed significantly since that time, and contemporary planning principles also differ from those in use when the 1979 plan was created. The new planning effort will prioritize transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development.


It is anticipated that the area plan update will require a program-level EIR. The plan and its implementation will involve changes to zoning, land use designations, subdivision regulations, and changes to land use policies specific to North Fair Oaks, as well as creation and identification of other policies and programs needed to support new development and transportation patterns in the area.


Previous Plans and Reasons for Update


The existing “North Fair Oaks Community Plan,” was adopted in 1979, and is one of five area plans that form a subset of the County’s General Plan. At the time of adoption, population levels and housing and transportation needs in the area were much lower, and concepts of transit oriented and mixed-use development were relatively unknown. As a result, methods to facilitate a pedestrian and transit-friendly neighborhood are not adequately addressed by the existing plan.


The existing North Fair Oaks Community Plan is implemented through the application of zoning and land use designations that are based on the 1979 plan. The plan envisions a largely auto-dependent community, composed primarily of discrete and segregated uses. The goal of the existing plan is to create a land use pattern “compatible with the predominantly low density, single-family residential character of the community.” As a result, much of the area is currently zoned for densities between 2 and 4 units per acre. In the few areas that permit multi-family housing, lot size restrictions, setbacks, and lot frontage requirements in the zoning and subdivision regulations preclude attached townhome development, which limits the variety of possible housing types. Zoning almost entirely precludes mixed uses in the area.


North Fair Oaks, particularly in the southern and western parts of the area, has become one of the lowest-income communities in unincorporated San Mateo County. Residents in the area will benefit from the integration of expanded transit, housing, and employment opportunities. The changing nature of the community since the adoption of the last specific plan, and the existence of two major transportation routes in the area, necessitate different land use and development patterns and policies to meet existing community needs, and to meet the environmental and social goals of the County and the region.





The 1979 plan establishes only one specific policy to help provide housing: Policy 1.5, “Residential Use of Institutional Land,” states that residential development of land designated “Institutional” in North Fair Oaks (shown on Map 2) may exceed the densities allowed by zoning if the increase meets a “special community-wide social goal,” and if the increase will not adversely affect traffic or the provision of public services. The County has no other policies specific to North Fair Oaks that would help provide more housing and transportation choices in the station area.


The County does have an inclusionary housing ordinance, which mandates the inclusion of affordable housing units in any project with more than four units. This policy applies Countywide, including North Fair Oaks.





All of the planning elements listed in the Station Area Planning Program Grant application would be integral elements of the updated Community Plan for North Fair Oaks:


A Community Involvement Strategy will be included, and will establish a robust outreach process, including public meetings, meetings with community groups, meetings with local business groups, consultations with other County departments, and meetings with other stakeholders, both prior to creation of a draft specific plan and between the draft and final stages of the plan.


A Market Demand Analysis for housing and commercial uses will be completed during the development of the plan, and used to determine a range of appropriate housing types and locations. An analysis of land use alternatives, and justification for the preferred alternative, will also be included, and will inform subsequent zoning, land use, and subdivision regulation changes.


A Parking Demand Analysis is particularly important in North Fair Oaks, which is already perceived as an area with limited parking space. Such an analysis will be an essential component of plan development, and will be used to identify and evaluate a range of potential changes to parking regulations and requirements for the area.


A Station Access and Connectivity Plan will be an indispensable component of the plan, since a priority of a new area plan would be to increase transit accessibility and usage area-wide. Among other factors, the Connectivity Plan will examine methods of optimizing pedestrian and bicycle access to transit, express bus usage, and multi-modal connectivity.


The plan will include an Affordable Housing Strategy, building on the County’s trial program identifying potential affordable housing sites (described in the Implementation section, below) and the County’s Housing Element update, which will be completed in 2009. Among other factors, the strategy will examine existing housing stock, potential housing sites, housing needs and supportable costs for all income levels, and possible changes to existing policies and regulations to create incentives for the construction of affordable housing.


The plan will incorporate an Accessibility Plan, with strategies to ensure safe and convenient access to transit, and mobility throughout the area for persons with disabilities.


Although the County currently has limited resources to pursue infrastructure improvements in North Fair Oaks, the plan would identify current and future infrastructure needs, as well as the priority of these needs, and would identify potential sources and strategies to fund these improvements.


The plan will incorporate Pedestrian-Friendly Design Standards.


The plan will identify implementation steps to achieve the policies and goals established in the plan, along with a timeline and milestones for implementation. The Implementation Plan will be a distinct section of the specific plan, and will identify the specific changes to the zoning standards and other applicable regulations necessary to carry out the updated Community Plan.





Community input and planning efforts are already underway in North Fair Oaks. In the spring and summer of 2007, the County conducted community workshops to assess opinion on local issues. A consultant was hired to collect, analyze, and synthesize community opinion and other data, and to facilitate bilingual workshops with a broad range of residents and stakeholders. The input provided by the community, and the issues identified as primary concerns, support the proposed Community Plan Update and the station area typology described in this application. For example, issues of concern to the community include a need for infrastructure improvements, enhanced pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and safety, lack of affordable housing, lack of neighborhood retail, and a desire for comprehensive rezoning of the area. The Community Plan Update process will revisit and expand on these efforts, and will build on the data and community input previously compiled.


The Planning Department is also collaborating with the Housing Department on a trial program to use Geographic Information Systems and other data analysis to identify potential affordable housing sites in North Fair Oaks. This program will be used in the Community Plan Update, along with data gathered for the 2009 Housing Element update, which will provide additional analysis of housing conditions, opportunities, constraints, and other factors.


The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors has supported the ongoing planning and community input efforts in North Fair Oaks, and has adopted a formal resolution supporting this funding grant and specific planning process. The Board also passed a resolution in 2007 supporting the area’s designation as a Priority Development Area. North Fair Oaks has long been recognized by the County as requiring additional planning and development efforts, although resource constraints have posed barriers to more comprehensive efforts. The North Fair Oaks Council, the community’s designated representative organization, also supports these planning efforts, and will be closely involved in the Community Plan Update process.


There are two housing development proposals pending in North Fair Oaks and one project under construction. The three projects are:


A 10-unit townhome development on Fifth Avenue. This project has received planning approvals, but building permits are pending, and the timeline for groundbreaking is uncertain.


A 6-unit townhome development on Sixth Avenue that has not yet received final planning approvals. This project is scheduled for review by the Board of Supervisors in February, but subsequent construction schedule depends on the developer.


A 9-unit housing development on Sixth Avenue that has received final approvals and is currently under construction.


Other developers have also expressed interest in the area, although this interest has not yet resulted in formal proposals.





The County is prepared to formulate the regulatory changes needed to implement the updated Community Plan, and the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will consider these changes either concurrent with the update or soon after its adoption. As noted above, this may include zoning changes, general plan land use designation changes, and subdivision regulation changes. Both the Community Plan update and its implementation will be closely coordinated with the updates of the County’s General Plan and Housing Element, to ensure that they are mutually consistent and complementary. While the County currently has insufficient funds to construct the infrastructure improvements that may be called for by the updated plan in the near term, it will pursue additional funding sources, including State infrastructure bond funds and other available funds, to meet these needs. Approved development projects in North Fair Oaks will also contribute to the implementation of needed infrastructure improvements.


All development proposals submitted to the County will be reviewed by the Planning Department for compliance with the Updated Community Plan once it is adopted. Proposals involving housing will also be referred to the Housing Department for review. In cases where the use of incentives, mandatory infrastructure improvements, or other programs or policies identified in the plan are appropriate for a particular project, the Planning and Housing Departments will ensure that these elements are addressed during review and approval of the permits required for new development.