A discussion to amend an agreement between San Mateo County and proponents of Big Wave, the long-planned mixed-use proposal that would combine commercial space with housing for developmentally disabled people, left some fans of the plan frustrated by continued delay.

The Board of Supervisors voted last week to amend the existing agreement, but no resolution was reached on the newest setback for Big Wave: Construction cannot begin until utility services are in place.

Big Wave co-founder Jeff Peck said he received notice on July 1 that the final map of the project and the construction permits could not be issued until the Planning Department has evidence utilities are in place.

The project has been in the talking stages for 18 years. Peck said Big Wave developers previously understood that the utilities would be installed at the same time as construction of the wellness center.

“We need you to understand: Please direct your staff to immediately record the final map and expedite the construction permit of the wellness center,” Peck told the board on July 23.

Peck called it a new requirement and said it will cost Big Wave another $1.5 million. His group has already spent $350,000 for utility design and is unable to close a loan with the bank before receiving a final map and construction permit, he said.

Peck said Montara Water and Sanitary District has given Big Wave a “Will Serve” letter and that there are ongoing minor negotiations regarding fees.

“We have not been in a hurry to complete our minor disagreements, because there was never an issue with the utilities until the county made it an issue on June 28 and July 1,” Peck wrote in an email. 

However, Planning and Building Director Steve Monowitz said securing utilities before construction has always been part of the agreement.

“It’s hard for me to understand where this misunderstanding took place because when you look at the history of the project, utilities have always been a challenge,” Monowitz said in an interview.

“In my view, this assertion that this is a new requirement is just a mischaracterization of something that has always been a requirement,” he added.

More than 20 people spoke in support of the project at the meeting. Some worried the project would never be completed and many parents were worried about who will take care of their children.

“Unfortunately, my wife and I are mortal,” said Bill Carlson, a father who hopes his daughter can live in Big Wave. “We know (our daughter) Sarah will outlive us. We are trying to plan ahead and Big Wave is central to our plan. We want Sarah to be a part of the community, establish a new life, long before we become too old to take care of her.”

The board voted to approve an amendment to the Big Wave agreement that modifies the three-building wellness center to two buildings and changes bike requirements and pedestrian trail crossing requirements. It also extends the deadline for completion and removes certain out-of-date environmental standards.

This wasn’t what many at the meeting were concerned about, though.

“All of our folks in the community deserve an opportunity to have inclusion, to have a home to come to, to not have to worry themselves who’s going to take care of them,” said Gina Rivers, a program manager with a local nonprofit called One Step Beyond that works with intellectually disabled people, at the meeting.

Monowitz plans to continue trying to move the project forward. He is arranging a meeting with the Montara water district to discuss options.

“We are willing to look at creative methods to solve the challenging situation the project is in,” Monowitz said. “We’re also careful to make sure we don’t let construction proceed ahead of the installation of required utilities.”

This article has been updated to include quotes from Steve Monowitz and Jeff Peck, as well as more information about the setbacks. 

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