The following is from the July 9, 2020 edition of The Daily Journal.

The development of a new office space and two commercial aircraft hangars located in San Carlos is closer to construction following the Planning Commission’s approval of the plans, Monday evening. 


The proposed Skyway Center development, near the San Carlos Airport and Hiller Aviation Museum, includes a 22,152-square-foot office building facing Skyway Road and two hangars attached to the rear of the building. Within the two large hangars, sitting at 47,517 square feet, would be 12 aircraft hangars to potentially hold up to 35 private planes. 


All five buildings currently in existence on the lot would be demolished to make way for the development. Martin Eisenberg, the co-trustee of the Sydney Levin marital trust whose wife Zelda Levin owns the property, said the units had been built around 1965 and were not within building code. None of the buildings have handicap access, elevators or sprinklers in case of a fire, he said. 


“I drove by the existing property the other day and it is much less attractive. This new design is just really really attractive,” said Commissioner Ellen Garvey, the incoming chair of the commission. 


Commissioners applauded the project for incorporating the stories of several historic female pilots both on the exterior of the hangars and within various event and public spaces. Some of the pilots include Bessie Coleman, the first African American and Native American woman to hold a pilot’s license, Jeana Yeagar, the co-pilot of the first nonstop unrefueled flight around the world and Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. 


“Like [Garvey], I also appreciate the callout and celebration of women of aviation. Aviation has certainly played a part of my wife’s family history, especially women in aviation so I appreciate that,” said Commissioner Jim Iacoponi. 


The developers were also praised for proposing to lease space for a local nonprofit at no cost, valued at $45,396.96 annually, as part of a community benefit plan. The plan would grant the developers other benefits which needed to be approved by the commission such as a reduced landscaping requirement and larger amount of exterior sign space. 


While the agreement has not been officially formalized, the San Carlos Community Foundation is in conversation with developers to be the main leaseholder. Once finalized, the organization would then have the authority to sublease the space to other nonprofits in the area. The leasing agreement would grant the organization access to a conference space at least 20 times a year with potential of up to 40 times depending on scheduling.


“I like the idea of the San Carlos foundation having a physical way of bringing the leadership they intend to bring to our local nonprofit community. That’ll be a good asset of theirs at least for 10 years and hopefully that partnership remains positive and doesn’t have to end at 10 years,” said Commissioner John Dugan. 

Once completed, the development would generate an estimated $1.5 million over the next 25 years but will result in 20% or 23 less jobs than currently held at the existing property. A current tenant expressed concern during the remote meeting over the continued progress of the project, noting COVID-19 is a hindrance for moving already struggling businesses. 


The tenant also said a state moratorium prevents the owners from evicting commercial tenants. Dugan expressed disappointment over the potential eviction notices calling the move “not very neighborly.” 

“If it’s true we’re handing out eviction notices right now to struggling commercial tenants I would ask them to be compassionate around that,” said Dugan. “I think there is in fact a moratorium. I’d imagine your tenants will figure it out so you’ll have to respect that. So I don’t think anything heavy-handed is at all warranted at this point in this crisis.” 


Additional concerns addressed were those around the potential noise and air pollution from the aircraft. John Wenrich, a director of strategic partnerships with Centrex, an aviation development agency, explained the updated facility has a waitlist of 85 aircraft owners whose aircraft run on sustainable fuel. He also said the owners would treat aviation as a hobby, taking flight over the weekend as opposed to current tenants, such the aviation school San Carlos Flight Center, who take upwards of nine trips per day. 


The commission’s approval now sends the plans to the City Council which will be requested to grant a rezoning of the property from a General Commercial Industrial Zoning District to a Planned Development Zoning District, and to approve the design review.