Ground is slated to soon break on the first phase of development standing to transform the Millbrae train station into a buzzing hub of homes, jobs, shops, tourism and public transportation, the city’s chief official said.
Millbrae City Manager Tom Williams said construction could begin as soon as December on the mixed-use project comprised of residential units, retail and office space as well as a new hotel on BART land.
But before work can start on the project dubbed Gateway at Millbrae Station, Williams said officials must authorize a BART parking plan, while concurrently attempting to advance negotiations with the transit agency to make way for other sweeping projects proposed nearby.
Despite the considerable amount of discussion and coordination facing officials, development representatives and transportation authorities, Williams expressed his enthusiasm for the nearing construction.
“I think it’s great and I’m excited to improve Millbrae,” said Williams.
As a final step in advance of building beginning, Williams said city officials, BART representatives and executives with the development firm Republic Urban must hash out lingering terms of a parking management program.
Recent designs offered to the city showed the proposed project was deficient by 50 spaces from earlier plans, said Williams, which does not account for the overall reduction of nearly 600 spaces to be lost when surface lots are redeveloped.
Williams said the parking deficiency concerned officials, who initiated negotiations to assure there are enough spaces for the residents, workers and hotel visitors at the project as well as those riding BART or Caltrain.
“We are moving forward with the traffic demand management and parking management to ensure there will be sufficient parking,” he said.
Millbrae officials earlier this year blessed final designs for the project comprised of four buildings that are four to seven stories tall. One residential building features 300 market-rate units and 20 units affordable to moderate-income people, plus 13,749 square feet of ground floor retail.
The other residential building consists of 80 affordable units reserved for veterans. Another building has 151,583 square feet of offices and 22,534 square feet of ground floor retail and the hotel offers 164 rooms.
The office building is slated to be located on the lot immediately in front of the parking structure, while the neighboring, larger apartment building will front onto Millbrae Avenue. Across the street from Rollins Road, also facing Millbrae Avenue, will be the hotel. And cornered behind the parking garage and hotel at the property’s boundary will be the affordable housing development. The back surface parking lot will be preserved.
According to Williams, the variety of development projects are slated to offer 827 spaces and 392 spaces in a remaining BART surface lot at the back of the property, for a total of 1,219 spaces.
Since the lot and surrounding area where train riders are picked up and dropped off in front of the garage is targeted for redevelopment, Williams said the zone frequented by drivers from ride-hailing services and taxis will be moved inside the parking structure.
Relocating the staging area will result in a loss of parking spots on the bottom floor of the structure, said Williams, compelling officials to restripe the structure in an effort to squeeze in additional spaces.
Williams said he expects the garage will lose about 60 spaces, and the restriping work will begin over the weekends in November. He balanced that loss though by noting BART is planning to end an arrangement with Google and the San Francisco International Airport, under which 200 spaces in the lot were reserved for employees.
“BART has agreed to eliminate that program and offer parking just for users of transportation,” he said.
Following the transition, the garage will ultimately offer 2,004 spaces. Noting the value of a limited commodity, Williams said recent parking inventory studies shows there are only about 160 available spaces in the garage during peak times of the week.
Nodding to the difficulty of fitting such a substantial amount of development into a relatively limited amount of space, Williams said it is reasonable to expect some adjustments will be necessary to accommodate the project.
“Infill projects are never easy,” he said.
He countered that thought though by sharing his anticipation for construction beginning on a project considered to be essential to the health of the local economy and evolution of the community.
“I’m not only excited about the housing but also the office development as well,” he said.
While Williams shared his enthusiasm over the expectation that ground will soon break on BART property, he said further negotiation with the transit agency will be required to allow for development of two neighboring projects.
BART must hold up its end of a previous land transfer arrangement, said Williams, to allow for realignment of surrounding streets before construction of the Serra Station project can start. The approved development entails 444 residential units, approximately 290,000 square feet of office space and about 35,000 square feet of retail space on Serra Avenue, west of the train station.
In a previous deal, city officials agreed to transfer three parcels to BART with an understanding that the property would be returned to the city once the planned developments were ready to move forward, said Williams.
For his part, Williams said he is hopeful the exchanges take place in short order so the nearby development and infrastructure work can advance.
“We need to get the title to those parcels so those can move forward,” said Williams.
Further confusing the planning process are designs from the High-Speed Rail Authority to claim property in the Serra Station project and build parking lots in the area slated for residential development. The Millbrae station has been identified as a stop, should the troubled rail project arrive along the Peninsula.
Williams said collaboration between the transportation agency, city and developer are underway to identify a suitable arrangement fitting the needs of all parties. One vision could integrate the high-speed rail’s presence into portions of the Serra Station commercial project, he noted.
“I think it makes so much sense, not just for high-speed rail but for the city of Millbrae and the developer,” he said.
Plans to rebuild the site currently occupied by Peter’s Café at the corner of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real are contingent on the BART parcel transfer too, said Williams.
San Francisco developer Mark Calvano has proposed a project comprised of 444,000 square feet of office space spread over 26,000 square feet of retail space in a tower next to a 160-room hotel at the site.
But Williams said officials have held off on entering an exclusive negotiating agreement offer with Calvano until the parcel transfer is completed — despite a $15 million contribution offered by the developer toward rebuilding the city’s community center.
Noting the collaboration required to facilitate the expansive vision for the site, Williams expressed optimism that the variety of sides can unify and bring the projects to a reality.
“Our goal with Millbrae is to all work together in a coordinated fashion,” he said.
For those interested in knowing more about the BART project and parking impacts, Millbrae officials will host a community discussion 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the intersection of Aviador Avenue and Highland Canal, near the station. Call (925) 788-3185 or email email@example.com for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105