San Bruno officials unanimously approved a sweeping mixed-use development at Mills Park Center, capping a tumultuous process featuring years of deliberation, a narrow rejection and other challenges.
The San Bruno City Council voted 4-0, with Vice Mayor Michael Salazar recused, to approve the most recent iteration of the project featuring 427 residential units along El Camino Real.
The decision Thursday, June 25, ended a long journey through the public planning process which included legal threats and continued neighborhood opposition. Recognizing the challenges the proposal has endured, Councilwoman Linda Mason advocated in its favor to make way for community development.
“It is time we move forward and pave a path for San Bruno where we are fiscally solvent — building for the families, individuals and workforce that are coming and already here,” she said. “And to provide a message to investors that San Bruno is open to change and is worth investing in because we are an amazing community that deserves investment.”
She balanced that perspective by disapproving of some methods utilized by developer G.W. Williams, which threatened to sue or leverage state law to streamline construction of a larger project if councilmembers denied the application.
Such a proposal arrived in the wake of officials narrowly rejecting a similar development last year, following Councilman Marty Medina casting a sole dissenting vote to kill the project due to concerns around height and a proposal to include a grocery store in the ground floor of the development. Because former Vice Mayor Irene O’Connell and Salazar owned property nearby, they were recused from voting previously and unanimous approval was required.
Original plans featured 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 at the intersection of Kains Avenue and El Camino Real just west of downtown. Of the units, 64 would have been set aside at an affordable rate and the development would have featured 879 parking spaces to accommodate residents as well as shoppers.
The new plans call for one building with 184 units and another with 243 units. Both buildings are the same height as initially proposed. There are 65 affordable units designated for those earning between very low and moderate incomes. The builder also offered $10 million in benefits to the city, if the project is approved.
The commercial space at the street level is reserved for businesses such as eateries, retail outlets, fitness centers, personal service or offices. Plans include 669 parking spaces in a two-level garage, with one portion partially underground.
Some neighbors suggested they still felt the project was too big for its surroundings.
“The height is overwhelming,” said Russell Stines, a neighborhood resident and devout critic of the project.
Councilmembers acknowledged those concerns, and admitted their decision would forever change the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
But officials also nodded to an obligation to consider the benefits offered by the project, such as additional housing units and a lucrative community benefits package which could help the city through a lean time for its budget.
For her part, Councilwoman Laura Davis suggested the development could contribute to the community’s advancement, once residents embrace the idea of altering their familiar surroundings.
“When we get past the fear of what is coming, the change is always really nice,” she said.
Mayor Rico Medina too suggested he believed the project would help the San Bruno community grow.
“I think we need to look forward and move forward,” he said.
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