Whistlestop is planning to transform it's location on 930 Tamalpais Ave. into a five-story building that will offer around 50 affordable housing units to seniors in addition to its regular services.
The popular nonprofit, which offers nutritional services and social activities for Marin's elderly, was looking at relocating to make way for the SMART train downtown station. Now, this new plan will enable the center to remain in its current location and expand on the services it already offers.
"We’ve not only taken this challenge of SMART, we’ve turned it into an opportunity for our clients and our community," said Executive Director Joe O’Hehir, who presented the new plan at a luncheon with city officials and community members Wednesday.
The downtown San Rafael station will include a two-platform design with the southbound platform on Tamalpais Avenue, which leaves no room for parking at Whistlestop. According to SMART's design, 23 of the nonprofit's parking spaces would be eliminated.
The proximity of the SMART station’s platform would also impact the handicapped entrance of the building and the noise and vibrations from construction would be heard and felt throughout the building when construction starts in the summer.
Whistlestop has been serving Marin's aging population for 59 years. Approximately 5,000 seniors travel to the center each year, and nearly a third of them use their cars, according to O’Hehir. The center is also located close to the transit center and bus terminal, which raised access questions if the center would be relocated.
The new center is part of transforming San Rafael into what O’Hehir refers to as a "transit-oriented development community."
"We’re adding affordable senior housing in a location where people won't need their cars," he said.
With the new design, Whistlestop's ground floor would be used for 22 to 24 parking spaces, with the second, third and fourth floors going to constructing 50 affordable housing units. The top floor would be for recreation, and would include some outdoor space and an activity hall. Jackson Cafe, the center's cafe, will relocate from its current location on Third Street to Fourth Street. A lobby and plaza would also be added for Whistlestop shuttles.
Whistlestop’s parking is currently owned by SMART. The downtown station will serve as the end of the line for the rail, that will run up to Santa Rosa. In the short term, SMART officials will be funding temporary parking spaces for the center when construction begins in the summer. They are considering using the 40 spaces from the nearby vacant Cafe Salute property. The center will also have to relocate while their building's construction is underway.
The nonprofit is currently looking for affordable housing partners for long-term planning. O’Hehir plans to announce the partner by the end of January. Assuming that the plan is approved by the city, construction on the new center should begin in November 2015. The SMART train will begin operating in late 2015.
San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips said the city was very supportive of the senior center's new vision. "I was pretty impressed with what they came up with. Whistlestop is very important to San Rafael," he said.
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