Two six-story residential developments in Millbrae meet the criteria to use a state law that seeks to streamline the planning process, but city officials worry they won’t have a say over design and traffic concerns.
The Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real intersection was given an ‘F’ rating, the lowest grade possible, and crossing the intersection takes an average of 82 seconds to cross, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority website.
“Millbrae Avenue is getting more and more congested by the minute,” Councilmember Gina Papan said. “Especially if you are a fire truck or an ambulance trying to get to the hospital located on Trousdale [Drive], so public safety is severely impacted by this.”
Senate Bill 35 expedites the development process by requiring the city to approve it without review and design standards. The bill allows for this if a city falls short to meet its Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a state law that assigns growth in eight-year cycles, in between 2015 and 2023.
One development is a six-story, 99-unit, 114,010-square-foot building at 1301 Broadway. The proposal includes 34 studio, 10 one-bedroom, 26 two-bedroom and 29 three-bedroom units. Plans indicate 24 parking spaces. Of the units, 50% will be offered to households making at or below 80% area income.
The other development is at 130-140 El Camino Real within the Millbrae Station Specific Plan. It would replace a medical office building to construct a six-story building with 30 apartment units, 27 of which will be offered at market rate and the remaining three made affordable for applicants who make 30% under the county median. The 38,943-square-foot building will feature two ground-level commercial spaces, a common area and 20 below-ground parking spaces.
Papan said the design doesn’t align with the Station Specific Plan and the leverage the city lost to SB 35 forces the council to sit out on the sidelines, without any say.
“This is the same old boxes and windows that we wanted to try to avoid and ... SB 35 gives us no latitude whatsoever,” Papan said.
However, Jeremy Levine, policy manager for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, said cities still get to determine the rules like height and density and all kinds of aesthetics but it doesn’t let the city create new design standards as they go. Developers need to follow the design standards that are already in place, he said.
“SB 35 says that when developers follow the rules that cities make, the developers get a more predictable timeline. The cities still make the rules, they just have to make them in advance,” Levine said.
Millbrae doesn’t always move fast on the proposals it receives, Levine said, adding some proposals can take years and SB 35 streamlines the process at a much faster rate, allowing the city to catch up to the affordable housing goals.
The Republic development was proposed in 2013 and opened its doors in 2022, Levine said, adding if the approval process happened under SB-35's timeline it would have already been built.
It is extremely expensive for the developers to go through the process and the delays that get stacked up against them amount to millions of dollars and, inevitably, it makes housing more expensive for buyers, he said.
Millbrae requires new residential projects to offer 15% of its units as affordable, 5% more than the state’s requirement. During a presentation to the council Feb. 28, there was confusion if the effect of SB 35 would mean the city would lose out on 5% more affordable than it strives for; however, Papan later said the mistake was cleared up and the city will be able to uphold those requirements.
Councilmember Anders Fung said he wants to ensure the units will be provided for those who are in need and ensure their distribution is equitable and fair.
“I just want to make sure the public understands that this is a work in progress, this isn’t a done deal, and we are going to make sure we hold these developers accountable for the design standards we already have established,” Fung said.
The city doesn’t have any authority to mandate the developer to follow any protocol, City Manager Tom Williams said. It would ultimately be up to the developer whether to work with the city or its concerns, he said. The process would mean the developer would need to report to the California Department of Housing and Community Development and city staff to verify applicants are within the specified affordability range for the project, he said.
No parking will be required because they are in a transit area, according to the bill. The development on Broadway proposes 24 parking spaces and the development on El Camino Real proposes 20 parking spaces. With minimal parking planned for both developments, Mayor Ann Schneider is concerned children who walk around the proposed developments could be at risk of being hit by passing cars who might not see them.
Papan agreed with Schneider and said the Millbrae Pancake House is nearby. Without a California Environmental Quality Act review, Papan said the city should step in and track the impacts of traffic and parking.
“This could be a traffic nightmare here,” Papan said.
Note to readers: This article has been edited because it previously said the Republic development was proposed in 2013 and still hasn't been completed but it was completed in 2022.
" It would replace a medical office building to construct a six-story building with 30 apartment units, 27 of which will be offered at market rate and the remaining three made affordable for applicants who make 30% under the county median." This sure doesn't sound like affordable housing is the goal.
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