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San Rafael council approves BioMarin, Whistlestop plans

San Rafael council approves BioMarin, Whistlestop plansThe San Rafael City Council has approved a plan to build 67 low-income apartments, a senior center and two four-story office buildings on a 3-acre downtown lot.

The council voted unanimously on Monday in favor of the redevelopment plan for 999 Third St., which was submitted in a joint proposal by the pharmaceutical company BioMarin and the senior services organization Whistlestop, both of which are based in San Rafael.

BioMarin, which bought the property in 2015, is set to build the two 72-foot-tall office buildings on the site. The company has told the city it hopes to start construction on one of the buildings within the next six years, and on the second building within the next 10 years. Once completed, the complex will provide space for about 550 new workers and will be a major expansion to BioMarin’s downtown San Rafael campus.

Whistlestop, in partnership with the East Bay real estate firm Eden Housing, plans to begin construction this year on its portion of the project, which is a six-story building reaching 70 feet in height. Whistlestop plans to operate a senior center on the first two floors of the building, while Eden Housing will own and operate the 67 apartments designated for low-income seniors on the four floors above.

The senior center is set to include medical facilities, a cafe and meeting rooms. Whistlestop plans to offer classes and activities for older adults at the center, according to CEO Joe O’Hehir. “We are thrilled and grateful that the city of San Rafael and Marin residents support our vision for the creation of this landmark project,” O’Hehir said in a statement.

BioMarin has allocated 15,000 square feet of its property for the Whistlestop project. In turn, Whistlestop has agreed to give its property at 648 Lindaro St. to Bio-Marin. The net property exchange results in a $1.2 million donation by BioMarin to Whistlestop, according to city officials.

The council on Monday approved a development contract between the city and BioMarin that allows the company up to 10 years to build its project. In the contract, the company has agreed to complete a $16 million environmental cleanup of the property, which was formerly a manufactured gas plant owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

BioMarin is required in the contract to pay San Rafael $900,000 for traffic flow and transportation improvement projects. The company must also fund the creation of a bike lane along a quarter-mile stretch of Lindaro Street, and has agreed to create a public plaza, 3,500 feet of retail space and conference rooms available for public use on its property, among other requirements. The council’s vote to approve the project on Monday came during a council meeting that the public was banned from attending in person due to the statewide shelter-in-place order aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Mayor Gary Phillips presided over the meeting at City Hall and was joined by Councilwoman Maribeth Bushey, while the other three council members joined in by phone. A live video stream of the proceedings was transmitted on the city’s website and on YouTube for public viewing. People could also tune in to the meeting by listening to an audio feed over the phone.

People were invited to submit comments to the council by calling in, typing them into a live chat on the YouTube stream or sending them in writing to the city clerk prior to the start of the meeting.

“It went pretty well,” Phillips said of the meeting format. “We had the system in place without any technical glitches. It’s not my preference, but right now we don’t have another choice.”

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