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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

From brown to green to gold: San Mateo's exemplary Station Park Green

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 24, 2008

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project site from the air (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

The same parcel, reconceived as Station Park Green:

Station Park Green (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

A stunning plan for transit-oriented development in San Mateo, California, south of San Francisco, has earned "gold" certification under the LEED for Neighborhood Development program founded by NRDC, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the US Green Building Council.  You can see before and after images above.  Images tell the tale better than words on this one but, first, let's start with some backstory:

Somewhere between six and seven years ago, my friend Shelley Poticha, then executive director of CNU, and I began kicking around whether we could create some sort of system of standards by which smart growth and new urbanist development could be judged.  We wanted to separate the pretenders from the truly worthy, and add a boost to the worthy by giving them recognition.

We found an early friend in Geoff Anderson, then director of EPA's smart growth office, which was willing to provide seed money.  That gave us the confidence to recruit some others, including Chicago architect Doug Farr, who was active within CNU.  And we began discussing our idea with Nigel Howard at the Green Building Council and two other USGBC leaders, Bill Browning and my NRDC colleague Rob Watson.  Eventually Shelley and I committed our two organizations to recruit USGBC as our administrative partner, and the subsequent three-organization partnership began calling our idea LEED for Neighborhood Development.  Jennifer Henry was soon recruited as our first staff director. 

On the left, a view of the pre-development site from ground level.  On the right, a view from the same vantage point, when the project is completed:

ground level before (San Mateo Co. Transit District)SPG from Delaware St (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

To make a very long story, full of plot twists and turns, very short, LEED-ND opened for business in a pilot program last year.  Some 239 projects around the country are participating.  We are now seeing the first generation of certified plans and projects and, so far, Station Park Green is my favorite.

The development has a number of elements that make it especially smart and green, including that it is on a remediated brownfield, a previously developed but outmoded and contaminated site that required cleanup but no breaking of new ground for its redevelopment.  It had been home to an obsolete K-Mart, a giant paved parking lot, a gas station, and a chain store.  Although utterly uninviting to pedestrians, the site was (and remains) right next to a CalTrans commuter rail station.

previous parking lot (by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)view from CalTrans station (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

When completed, the new 12-acre Station Park Green development will contain approximately 600 homes, 60,000 square feet of retail space, 10,000 square feet of offices, and two acres of park and green space.

Here is a series of images (credit to an excellent presentation from Brian Fitzpatrick of the San Mateo County Transit District) showing how the site was reconceived and is being transformed from an asphalt wasteland into a walkable, green, smart, mixed-use development:

(by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)(by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)(by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)(by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)(by: San Mateo Co. Transit District)Station Park Green from above (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

LEED-ND awards points for achievement of various design and performance standards in three basic categories: (1) location and transportation linkages;  (2) neighborhood pattern and design; and (3) green infrastructure and buildings.  While the system's standards have been born of a true collaboration (and, at times, negotiation) among the three partner groups, those three categories also correspond roughly to the three chief areas of expertise in the core constituencies of smart growth, new urbanism, and green building. 

(I must state here that, although NRDC has been the originator among non-industry, environmental/smart-growth groups, we coordinate our participation closely with the Smart Growth America coalition; many groups, notably the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, have been major contributors to the program.)

site plan (by: EBL&S, SMWM)residential street in SPG (by: EBL&S, SMWM)

Station Park Green earned its gold medal by doing well in all three categories:  As mentioned, the location is perfect for smart growth, adjacent to rail transit and on a previously developed site in the midst of other development.  The new development's pattern uses land efficiently while also being highly walkable, diverse in its functions, and contributing badly needed green space to the neighborhood.  And it will incorporate solar orientation, roof gardens and other low-impact stormwater management features, along with green technology that reduces water consumption 30 percent compared to conventional development; at least 40 percent of the development's square footage will qualify for additional certification under LEED's green building rating systems.

Station Park Green (by: EBL&S, SMWM)The project has been supported by the Greenbelt Alliance, the San Mateo Chamber of Commerce, and the 19th Avenue/Park neighborhood association.  Congratulations are in order to EBL&S Development (Alan Talansky, project leader), SMWM Architecture, and their associates GLS Landscape/Architecture, Arup Engineers, and Raimi + Associates.

The LEED-ND standards have been updated and substantially improved, pursuant to lessons learned in the pilot program, by a committee appointed under the auspices of the three partners.  The revisions are now undergoing peer review by panels of experts and will soon be published for public comment.  We hope that LEED-ND will be fully operational and open to all applicants by late 2009.

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Dave ReidOct 25 2008 05:45 PM

Here in Milwaukee we have a very promising LEED-ND project as well The Brewery What makes it even more interesting is that not only are they attempting to meet the LEED standards but also have the meet many historic preservation requirements as well. And the first project, affordable rental units, will be opening at the beginning of the year.

Kaid @ NRDCOct 26 2008 03:34 PM

Thanks, Dave. I absolutely love what I've seen of the Brewery project, which I think includes the adaptive reuse of something like 26 buildings on the historic register.

Susan KraemerOct 26 2008 09:25 PM

I just visited a similar project - its up near Petaluma, I described details here: for an environmental site

Kaid @ NRDCOct 27 2008 10:55 AM

Thanks, Susan. The transit characteristics won't be the same as for Station Park Green, but I know NRDC's California staff has very favorable impressions of Sonoma Mountain Village. You've given it a great description in your blog - keep up the great work!

Susan KraemerOct 28 2008 09:36 PM

Yes, the fact that the San Mateo project is already right on a Bart line is great.

Having lived in NYC, I know how easy transportation is when the subway is right at the corner. It could be workable here. Our sprawl in the Bay Area is horrible.

Matt RaimiOct 29 2008 12:24 PM

Great write-up on what I believe is great project. I agree that this is exactly the type of project that LEED-ND should be certifying and the type of project that we should all be actively supporting in whatever way we can.

Considering that this was one of the first projects certified under the pilot program, it was good to see that the ND points accurately reflected the environmental benefits of a good location. Additionally, EBL&S went (and will probably continue to go) beyond just location and create a truly green site, with may features that support energy and water conservation and improve the quality of life for residents. These benefits were also reflected in the ND points and allowed the project to achieve "Gold."

As you know, I worked on both the development of the ND rating system (under contract to the USGBC) and then helped prepare the documentation for Station Park Green. Preparing the documentation for this complex urban project was a great learning experience and there were challenges worth noting. First, and this is probably no surprise, the documentation took quite a while, especially the walk distance credits. Second, the project had some features that made achieving points a bit more difficult. The central green with one-way streets, for example, challenged the Walkable Streets criteria. And third, this was a stage 1 submission so some of the details of the project had not been worked out. All of this said, I think that the rating system did work quite well and some of the challenges of documentation will be resolved in time and as more projects are certified.

Finally, I hope that the LEED-ND certification will help the project through the city's entitlement process.

Keep the good examples coming and thank you for all your leadership in getting ND out on the streets.

Kaid @ NRDCOct 29 2008 03:06 PM

Thanks, Matt, and personal congratulations for your work on SPG. That's a particularly interesting point about the central green, which I think is a really important feature of the project and the kind of thing we want to encourage. As you know, tweaking the ND standards is a continual learning process and probably will be ongoing throughout the life of the program.

Next time I'm in the Bay Area, you'll have to give me a tour!

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