Caltrain’s board of directors is poised to adopt a policy that will guide future use of agency land — what officials are describing as the zoning code for the railroad.

The board on Thursday discussed and nearly adopted the rail corridor use policy, but felt it needed a couple of minor edits before making it official. 

The policy also referred to as RCUP is separate, though very much connected, to a transit-oriented development policy the board will consider in February. 

Caltrain regularly receives requests from third parties to use its property for non-railroad uses including housing. The RCUP was developed in part to create a process for considering and approving those proposals. The RCUP also contains detailed maps of Caltrain land, which has been divided into different zones for railroad and non-railroad uses. 

“One helpful way to think about the RCUP is as a sort of zoning code for the railroad,” Principal Planner Melissa Jones said during the meeting. “Cities adopt zoning codes to guide land use decisions within their jurisdictions and the RCUP is going to play a similar role in guiding land use decisions for JPB’s property.” 

In developing the RCUP, Caltrain planners have concluded that the vast majority of the agency’s property is needed for operations and future capital projects to support the growth of the railroad, but not all of it.

The analysis found two “high potential opportunity sites” for transit-oriented development: the Caltrain stations in Redwood City and Mountain View, which collectively total 4.8 acres. 

The analysis also found seven sites totaling 6.8 acres that show potential to accommodate development, but may have challenges, such as being small or irregularly shaped.

Those sites include 1.4 acres at Williams Avenue and Diana Street in San Francisco, much of which is currently home to the Florence Fang Asian Community Garden, the 1.3-acre South San Francisco station, the 1.1-acre San Mateo station and the 1.2-acre Menlo Park station, among other smaller sites. But more analysis is needed before those locations can be seriously considered for development. 

“We really need to investigate those further, study them through a real estate lens and determine if they’re viable for development,” Jones said, referring to the 6.8 acres of land that has potential, but isn’t being labeled as “high potential opportunity sites.” 

The surrounding community will also of course be a factor with proposed projects and even though development of these sites is a long way out, if it ever happens, several people showed up to the meeting to call for the preservation of the Florence Fang garden specifically.

Also, some of those sites, it has already been determined, are not viable for an independent development project, but could be viable for a joint development with a Caltrain capital project. But the RCUP analysis did not pin down exactly how much space is viable for such projects. 

“There’s definitely potential for additional space for development projects.,” Jones said. “That would need to be developed on a case by case basis along with the capital planning underway at those different sites so we can be sure there’s sufficient space for the capital project and how to carefully integrate the joint development in that and also maximize the joint development returns, but we haven’t done that study yet.” 

Board members also mentioned the potential for development above the tracks and stations and wanted the policy to include a mention of air space for potential development. That will be added to the policy before it’s adopted, likely at the February meeting.

“The air space to me is really important,” said Board Member Jeannie Bruins, also a Los Altos councilwoman. “I’d like to see something about the air space be in this information we have out there so we’re not just limiting ourselves to the slivers because that’s where more of the opportunities are.” 

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