While transportation administrators, housing advocates, developers and others gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the Millbrae BART station, city officials were not feeling very celebratory.
Under gloomy skies and over rain-soaked soil, councilmembers poured water on the Wednesday, Dec. 4, event designed to build excitement for construction of a sweeping housing and commercial development at the train station.
Calling the event a farce because permits have not yet been issued to start building the Gateway at Millbrae Station, Mayor Wayne Lee and Councilwoman Gina Papan focused on the shortcomings of the proposed project.
“We are concerned it is misleading to the public because they haven’t got the demolition and construction permits yet,” said Lee, of the project to be built by developer Republic Urban on land owned by BART.
Kelly Erardi, senior vice president at Republic Urban, sidestepped such concerns and instead said the developer is solely interested in moving ahead with the project.
“We are squarely focused on the future, and recognize that, through the Gateway at Millbrae Station project, we are going to help strengthen the surrounding community,” he said in an email.
Papan meanwhile shared a similar perspective to her colleague, claiming the event was a publicity stunt which sent the wrong message to community members who have raised concerns regarding station access and other issues once construction gets underway. Neither Lee nor Papan attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
What’s more, Papan said she expects building to further compound a laundry list of concerns she already holds regarding the state of the Millbrae BART station.
“I think the development will cause more chaos,” said Papan, who has long been critical of the transit agency as well as the builder and voted alongside Lee to oppose the transit-oriented development during the approval process.
Ultimately, the project opponents were overruled and the Millbrae City Council 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.
Before work can begin, however, terms of the development agreement must be fulfilled by the developer. For Papan, a central concern is assuring adequate parking is offered at the station.
“Ridership will decline because of the construction and removal of additional parking spaces,” she said.
Designs offered to the city earlier this year showed the proposed project was deficient by 50 spaces from earlier plans, which do not account for the overall reduction of nearly 600 spaces to be lost when surface lots are redeveloped. 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.
Further illustrating her concerns, Papan sent a letter to Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, asking for the lawmakers to intervene and push BART officials to care more for the Millbrae station.
Among the issues raised by Papan include safety and cleanliness concerns, transportation and access issues, ticketing problems and the lack of coordination between BART and Caltrain schedules.
Papan said she has repeatedly raised these problems with BART representatives, with limited response, which encouraged her to seek assistance from local lawmakers.
“I have no confidence in BART,” she said. “That’s why we need to go to the state Legislature.”
BART chief communications officer Alicia Trost said transportation officials are aware of the concerns raised and are committed to discussing the issue further with Millbrae councilmembers.
“The cleanliness and safety of all stations is of utmost importance. Our new general manager is also working to improve the customer experience,” she said in an email. “Our general manager met with city officials at his listening tour visit last week and he committed to having a follow up sit down meeting with them to discuss their concerns.”
In the interim though, Lee said he believes the state of the station remains in shambles which is a key frustration for officials, residents and train riders alike.
“There is just a lack of attention,” he said. “It’s just deteriorating and nobody is doing anything.”
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