Millbrae officials are grappling with ways a coming high-speed rail stop may mix with the city’s downtown train station and the future developments proposed near the transit center.
The Millbrae City Council hosted Tuesday, Feb. 14, officials from the High-Speed Rail Authority for a discussion regarding the proposed construction of a station serving as a connection between the state project, Caltrain and Bay Area Rapid Transit, according to video of the meeting.
Officials expressed an interest in collaborating with members of the rail authority while planning construction of the station expected to be built by 2025, but also raised issues with some of the initial plans offered by the state agency.
Potential parking lot size, track configuration, platform alignment and threat to infringe of planned housing and retail developments were among the main concerns identified by the council.
“This is very important to a small city like Millbrae,” said Mayor Reuben Holober. “This is a key economic area for our city.”
High-speed rail is considering laying a dedicated set of tracks entering the station connecting to an above-ground platform adjacent to the BART and Caltrain lines, according to the most recent set of plans presented during the meeting.
The amended configuration is a different look from an earlier 2010 proposal showing a set of high-speed rail tracks being built underground, which some officials believed remained the most reasonable approach.
“Years ago there was an underground station,” said Vice Mayor Gina Papan. “That still makes more sense than anything.”
Papan said she wished members of the rail authority would have been more communicative with city officials while developing designs for the station.
Ben Tripousis, the Northern California regional director for the High-Speed Rail Authority, said he understood issues raised by Millbrae officials, but made it clear no station plans have been recommended or approved.
“It is important to note this is in the process we are in the midst of,” he said. “Nothing has been decided.”
Tripousis said rail authority officials are in the process of examining environmental impacts potentially associated with the project anticipated to cost as much as $67 billion to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. The final environmental impact report is slated to be completed next year.
Along the Peninsula, the high-speed trains are slated to primarily share the Caltrain tracks, which are set to soon begin accommodating electrified trains. Millbrae has been identified as a stop for the high-speed trains due to its BART stop and proximity to San Francisco International Airport.
As Millbrae officials look ahead to the new trains beginning to arrive, many feel an obligation to assure the rail line does not interfere with the 800 new residential units, 77,000 square feet of retail space, more than 436,000 square feet of offices and a hotel proposed in the area near Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.
Some councilmembers peppered rail authority representatives with questions regarding the amount of car parking spaces slated to be built at the new station, due to beliefs the area near the new developments should serve an opportunity for economic growth rather than auto storage.
Tripousis assured Millbrae officials though that the rail authority was cognizant of the need for the new rail station to blend with the rest of the development proposed near the site.
A proposal by Vincent Muzzi to redevelop his 150 Serra Ave. property into nearly 500 residential units, 267,000 square feet of offices and 30,000 square feet of retail space stands to be most influenced by the high-speed rail plans.
Muzzi noted the state’s timeline for building the rail system is well behind his development plans, and encouraged Millbrae officials to move ahead with his proposal to improve their bargaining stance when discussing construction near the train station.
“It would be strengthening the city’s position to have approved projects then work to adjust with high-speed rail,” he said.
Holober also pointed to plans proposing a larger footprint than the existing rail station as another potential cause of concern for those who may feel the existing Millbrae station is already large enough.
For his part, Tripousis said state officials would gladly consider the perspectives expressed by Millbrae officials when moving ahead with development designs and the environmental impact process.
“We will certainly look at what has been asked for in the past and ensure that is a central part of our conversation working forward,” he said.
In other business, the council also moved ahead with a proposal to increase development fees charged to those building new projects in the 116-acre site near the rail station.
The council unanimously agreed builders should pay about $25,900 per new residential unit, $6,300 per hotel room, $45 per square foot of retail space, $9 per square foot of office space and $4.55 per square foot of industrial space, under the most recently recommended rates. The issue will come back again for formal, further approval at a later meeting.
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