A rejected mixed-use development proposal including 425 housing units in San Bruno continues sitting fallow, despite continued efforts by officials, the developer and housing advocacy agencies to push it ahead.
Following the San Bruno City Council’s denial of the Mills Park development earlier this summer, discussions between officials and the developer have continued but gained no traction, said City Manager Jovan Grogan.
An effort by Vice Mayor Irene O’Connell to revisit her decision to recuse herself from the initial vote to shoot down the project fell flat as well, as the Fair Political Practices Commission supported her initial choice.
And while a housing advocacy organization is considering pursuing legal action to force its advancement, Grogan said the variety of efforts have yet to achieve their goal of reviving the project.
“The project that was before the City Council, as modified by the developer that night, did not pass. And so there appears to be no clear way forward,” he said.
The San Bruno City Council voted 2-1, with Councilman Marty Medina dissenting, to deny the Mills Park development proposal which included 425 residential units and a market at the corner of San Bruno Avenue and El Camino Real in July. In addition to O’Connell, Councilman Michael Salazar recused himself since he owns property nearby. Since two councilmembers were recused from the decision, unanimous support was required for approval.
Signature Development initially proposed one five-story building with 182 units over a 42,000-square-foot store and another five-story building with 243 units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. Of the units, 64 would have been set aside at an affordable rate and the project would have featured 879 parking spaces to accommodate residents as well as shoppers.
In response to concerns raised by residents and Medina regarding the size of the project abutting the neighborhood comprised largely of single-family homes, the developer offered to take off 16 units.
Yet despite the concession, Medina felt the project was still too large and threatened to invite too much traffic congestion and parking problems to the neighborhood. He could not be persuaded and ultimately cast the sole vote required to kill the project.
The decision raised eyebrows following years of deliberation by city officials, sizable investment by the developer and countless hours of public deliberation. The project also aligned with Measure N, which loosened development regulations and made way for taller buildings near the Caltrain station. As well, it is in the area bounded by the city’s transit corridor plan, which promotes dense, transit-oriented development under an effort to establish new jobs and homes in close proximity to the station.
Following the meeting, O’Connell reached out to the FPPC to determine whether her decision to recuse herself from voting on the project was appropriate, according to a city report.
Had the commission determined the recusal was unnecessary, Grogan said he believed the project could have been reconsidered by a fuller San Bruno City Council.
But with judgment that recusal was needed, combined with the absence of a reworked project proposed by the developer, Grogan said plans for the site continue to be in question.
“Barring a resubmittal or significant changes to the plans, there does not appear a way forward,” he said.
Signature Development President Mike Ghielmetti said in an email the project has not progressed and that his company continues weighing all available options.
Other agencies have attempted to intervene too, as the state Department of Housing and Community Development suggested officials may have violated housing laws with the denial, while questioning the city’s ability to reject an expansive residential development amidst a raging affordability crisis.
Furthermore, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund sent a letter in late July suggesting legal action may be necessary to compel officials to approve the project.
“The San Bruno City Council has an obligation to abide by all relevant state housing laws when evaluating the [Mills Park ] proposal, including the Housing Accountability Act,” said the letter signed by Sonja Trauss, director of the organization which files lawsuits against cities which reject housing projects. The organization also recently filed a lawsuit against San Mateo following the City Council rejecting a proposal to build a 10-unit condominium building off El Camino Real.
For his part, Grogan said officials continue analyzing the letters received. And considering the variety of efforts to get the project off the ground as well as the commitment of officials to catalyze construction, he expressed optimism that progress could eventually be established.
“We remain hopeful there is a pathway forward to redevelop the site. Development is important for the revitalization of the city’s transit corridor plan and downtown. It is an excellent development opportunity,” he said.
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