116-acre site plan OK’d: Millbrae City Council approves development policy for train station area

An artist rendering of the mixed-use project designed by Republic Urban near the Millbrae rail station. Officials approved the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan, which will make way for development in the 116-acre site surrounding the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.

Following years of thorough planning and months of extensive deliberation, officials approved the policy guidelines laying the groundwork for future development in the 116-acre site near the Millbrae rail station.

Yet despite the substantial amount of the consideration that has gone into shaping the document aiming to regulate construction in the area surrounding the city’s Bay Area Rapid Transit and Caltrain station, the Millbrae City Council narrowly passed the station area plan Tuesday, Feb. 9, by a slender margin of 3-2.

Councilmembers Wayne Lee and Gina Papan dissented, due in part to their concerns the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan was being ushered through the approval process too quickly, and more could be done to benefit Millbrae residents who stand to have see their city’s gateway built out through the development of new homes as well as retail and office space.

Residents had expressed a desire for officials to form a unified front before approving the document which establishes policy for development of mixed-use projects near the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.

Mayor Anne Oliva noted the remaining dissension among the council as the policy went to a vote, and said the difference of opinion stemmed from a unanimous desire of councilmembers to make the right decision for the future of the city.

“We are divided because we want to the best for everybody,” she said.

Even Papan, who has been the most outspoken critic of the document since joining the council in the fall, said she believes the plan has been vastly improved through the feedback of the council.

“I think we have come a really long way,” she said.

Considering that progress, Papan said she still felt there was further room for improvement, which is why she could not vote in favor of it moving forward.

“I will be voting no because I think we can make this better,” she said, just as the proposal went up for approval.

The last two council meetings featuring discussion of the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan lasted roughly five hours each, pushing deliberations early into the following morning and ultimately resulting in postponed decisions.

Vice Mayor Reuben Holober said at the end of the last meeting he felt as if the document was adequately prepared for approval, but favored delaying a final vote in part due to the late hour.

One of the lingering sticking points during a previous discussion by council was how the new homes and jobs slated to be built in the 116-acre site could cause enrollment growth in the Millbrae Elementary School District.

To address those concerns, city officials amended the plan to require developers proposing projects in the boundary of the station area to discuss with school officials offsetting costs the district could incur through a growing student population.

Vahn Phayprasert, superintendent of the Millbrae Elementary School District, said the adjustment adequately addressed the concerns of the school community, and expressed his support for the plan moving forward.

No projects have been formally submitted, as developers have been required to wait for the council to approve the specific plan before officially presenting project designs, but at least two properties have been identified as potential construction sites.

Republic Urban has been hired by BART to build on a piece of land owned by the rail agency more than 300 units of housing, roughly 47,000 square feet of retail space, more than 160,000 square feet of office space and potentially a hotel near the station.

An affordable housing development offering 55 units to Millbrae veterans who served in the armed forces has also been proposed in a separate project by Republic Urban.

Vincent Muzzi has expressed interest in redeveloping his 150 Serra Ave. property into nearly 500 residential units, 267,000 square feet of offices and 30,000 square feet of retail space.

As the council approved the plan, Holober noted the consent from officials only pertained to guidelines for development, and not any specific project.

Many of the issues raised regarding potential impact on infrastructure and local schools can be addressed when specific development projects are submitted, said Holober, and the station area plan only serves as a framework for those discussions.

Lee though said he believed the plan remained too vague, and did not go far enough to ensure the best interest of Millbrae would be served through redevelopment of the area which acts as the gateway to the city’s commercial district from Highway 101.

But ultimately those concerns were not compelling enough to convince the rest of the council to further delay approval, as a majority felt it was due time to move ahead with the process.

Councilwoman Ann Schneider said she believed approving the specific plan would help jump-start the future of the city’s growth.

“I have really high hopes we can bring some excitement and fresh energy into Millbrae,” she said.

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