Following years of planning and countless hours of deliberation capped by an extensive discussion spanning into the early morning hours, Millbrae officials finally approved Serra Station development designs.
The Millbrae City Council unanimously blessed plans for the sweeping commercial and residential project proposed by developer Vince Muzzi on land abutting the city’s Caltrain and BART station.
The decision, which arrived just past midnight Wednesday, April 10, caps a process spanning several years since Muzzi first detailed plans to construct 444 housing units, more than 270,000 square feet of offices and up to approximately 30,000 square feet of retail space in three towers reaching up to 10 stories.
Considering the exhaustive examination completed in advance of the meeting, most of the session’s discussion focused on nuanced details of the project such as public art elements and exterior building colors.
And though some aesthetic elements still require final ratification by city officials, the approval offered by councilmembers largely sets the stage for development to get underway.
Following the deciding vote, the last of which occurred with Mayor Wayne Lee absent, Muzzi expressed appreciation to officials who painstakingly vetted the plans.
“After almost seven years, it’s a relief to have it done. I think it’s a good project,” said Muzzi, during an afternoon phone interview following the decision.
Vice Mayor Reuben Holober, who ran the meeting because Lee was calling in from the East Coast, also lauded the design — though his enthusiasm was also likely subdued by the fatigue often noted during the meeting by officials.
“I think it looks very nice,” said Holober, according to video of the meeting.
While many general sentiments were left on the table in favor of critiquing building colors, design articulation and other specific elements, not all officials were uniformly in favor of the project.
Lee was the harshest critic of one of the residential towers, claiming he felt one building in particular required more design work to make it suitable for construction.
“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a boxy building,” said Lee, regarding the efforts by architects to make the project exterior more appealing.
Ultimately, Lee’s opinion was outweighed by his colleagues who unanimously voted in favor of the building’s design. Lee though disconnected from the call in advance of the decision, once the clock ticked past 3 a.m. in his time zone. He voted with his colleagues in unanimous support for the other two building designs as well as the various art and sign features.
The design approval comes almost exactly one year in the wake of councilmembers granting their initial votes in support of the development proposal for Serra Station, which neighbors the Gateway at Millbrae Station project offered by Republic Urban on BART land near the station.
The BART project, comprised of 150,000 square feet of offices, nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space, 400 new housing units and a hotel, is also in design review and nearing approval from councilmembers.
For Serra Station, the decision ends an occasionally contentious route traveled by the project which needed to overcome reservations held by neighbors. In observation of the concerns held by those living nearby, Muzzi agreed to remove the first six floors of balconies facing the neighborhood along Hemlock Avenue; build a wall and plant trees to smooth the transition between the project and the nearby homes; and apply exterior colored panels to address neighborhood concerns that the building design was too bland.
In return, neighbors agreed to allow a residential tower’s top corner to infringe on a city policy which is designed to limit building height in large developments abutting residential neighborhoods.
For his part, Muzzi said Wednesday he believed the concessions identified through the public planning process improved the project significantly.
And with the development largely approved, Muzzi’s attention turned to breaking ground. He said he is in negotiations with a builder interesting in constructing the development but, until a shovel hits the dirt, Muzzi approached the project with measured enthusiasm.
“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” he said.
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