In the face of staunch community opposition from neighbors fearing a lessened quality of life, officials blessed plans for one of the largest ever developments proposed in San Bruno.
The San Bruno Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend the City Council approve construction of the Mills Park Plaza proposal for 425 apartments in a sweeping mixed-use development downtown.
The decision, which some commissioners strained to make, came in the wake of hours of public testimony from those who claimed the project would mar the experience of living nearby.
But citing the approval of a ballot initiative loosening development regulations and increasing building heights, as well as a need for more housing, officials ultimately favored the development over the concerns raised by residents.
“I support growth and progress and this project does provide that,” said Commissioner Mary Lou Johnson, who acknowledged supporting the project was not an easy decision, according to video of the meeting Tuesday, June 18.
Commissioner Tom Hamilton said he felt the development was too large for his standards, despite ultimately voting in favor of it.
“I would love this project if it were shorter,” said Hamilton, recognizing the many similar sentiments shared by neighbors.
Under the commission’s decision, councilmembers will ultimately have the final say in whether to approve the project. As part of the approval, commissioners requested councilmembers work with the developer to see if a height reduction from the proposed roughly 80-foot peak is possible. Commissioners Kelly Lethin and Valentine Morgan were absent from the meeting and did not vote.
As currently proposed, the project at the intersection of El Camino Real and San Bruno Avenue features one five-story building with 182 units over a nearly 42,000-square-foot grocery store and another five-story building with 243 units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. Of the units, 64 would be set aside at an affordable rate.
The development aims to replace empty commercial buildings and parking lots formerly known as Mills Park Center. The development would also feature 879 parking spaces, to accommodate residents as well as shoppers. Twenty-seven parcels were stitched together by Signature Development to facilitate construction of the project which is designed to span about 5 acres.
The development has been planned for at least two years, and aligns with the standards laid out by the voter approval of Measure N, which allowed for increased heights and higher density throughout San Bruno’s main transportation corridors.
Yet despite the extensive public planning process, many neighbors near the project maintained deep reservations with the design, as most claimed the plans are incompatible with the surrounding area.
Resident Steve Freitas detailed the variety of concerns held by many neighbors who acknowledged the need for more housing, while suggesting the proposed project is not the correct approach.
“Yes, we need progress. Yes, it is beautiful. Yes, we need something — but we don’t need 80 feet of it. So scale it down,” he said. “You guys have the authority. You have the authority to stop the whole thing — we’re not saying that. But make it right. Make it right for the people, the residents that live here now.”
Resident Russell Stines expressed a similar perspective.
“This building needs to come down in height. It is way too tall for that residential community,” he said, as part of a long line of public speakers who took issue with the development’s height, as well as the potential for generating more congestion on surrounding streets.
The sentiment was not universally shared among audience members though, as some claimed the project would help address the affordability issues plaguing San Bruno, as well as the region and state.
“If you wanted to put this development in my neighborhood, I would be in favor of it. The lack of housing makes everything in the Bay Area more expensive,” said resident Auros Harman.
Attempting to balance the variety of perspectives, commission Chair Linda Mason said officials are tasked with not only adhering to the popular sentiment shared by residents but also recognizing the city’s development standards.
Referring to election material from 2014 when Measure N was approved, Mason observed the project plans are in alignment with the pitch to voters for supporting the initiative.
“All these moments and decisions by all of us have aligned to create this development,” said Mason, who agreed with those feeling the project was too tall while also suggesting redevelopment is preferable to the status quo.
For the part of Vice Chair Sophie Lagace, she argued the project is appropriate for its placement along a main corridor.
“If we can’t build this sort of mixed-use project along El Camino Real, I’m not sure where in San Bruno it could exist.”
Johnson meanwhile made her case for the development on the back of advancing a community amidst a larger transition.
“Growth is growth and we have to think about the big picture for San Bruno,” she said.
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