Millbrae gives station development final OK
By Austin Walsh Daily Journal staff
Millbrae officials put the finishing touches on approving a transformative housing, commercial and hotel proposal on BART land adjacent to the city’s train station.
A majority of the Millbrae City Council voted in favor of the variety of measures tied to the Gateway at Millbrae Station proposal, with Mayor Gina Papan and Councilman Wayne Lee occasionally dissenting.
Their opposition ultimately was again insufficient to block the massive project though, as councilmembers Reuben Holober, Anne Oliva and Ann Schneider ratified their initial approval of the 150,000 square feet of offices, nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space, 400 new housing units and a hotel abutting the city’s train station. Of the housing units, 80 are proposed in a standalone project to be constructed nearby and reserved for military veterans.
Before the approval was consummated, Papan and Lee took their last crack at attempting to sweeten the deal by seeking compromises from developer Republic Family of Companies.
Despite the hours of deliberations over the matter, Lee maintained the concerns he has held regarding the project being ushered through the approval process too quickly.
“We are rushing this through … we need to properly plan,” said Lee, citing fears regarding school enrollment growth generated by the development, as well as strain on city infrastructure and concerns over affordable housing.
Lee sought givebacks from Michael Van Every, Republic Family of Companies CEO and president of development, who largely turned down the attempts to ramp up the affordable housing component.
“This deal is the threshold. We can’t go any further,” said Van Every, who at the meeting last month prior to receiving initial approval offered additional affordable units at the request of Holober.
The approval granted at the most recent meeting affirms the tentative construction map, development agreement and other documents pre-empting groundbreaking, which Van Every said his company would like to start as soon as possible.
The project is still subject to design review and additional planning, which is where some of the detailed issues raised at the April 10 meeting will be addressed. Beyond affordability and infrastructure concerns, officials vetted terms of the shuttle access, landscaping, open space and more.
Regarding site access, Papan said she favored city officials authorizing a forthcoming traffic study. She claimed officials should select the company to do the study, for fear of a firm hired by the developer publishing favorable results.
“I think the interest of the developer will be too controlling of the outcome,” she said.
Van Every was unwilling to accept such terms though, and ultimately he was backed by a majority of the councilmembers. The two sides settled on allowing officials to co-sign the firm ultimately selected to do the study.
Papan was not dead set on seeking givebacks from the developer though, suggesting she believed the city and other nearby builders could contribute to a safety wall that needs to be constructed on El Camino Real.
“It is inappropriate for one developer to be responsible for this,” Papan said of the wall still needing to be approved by Caltrans, which oversees construction on El Camino Real. Van Every said his company would contribute $75,000 to the project, and the rest of the cost could be split with other parties.
One of the builders who may face the additional cost is Vince Muzzi, who is proposing 444 housing units, more than 290,000 square feet of offices and approximately 13,200 square feet of retail space in one nine-story and two 10-story towers at the city’s rail stop.
As was the case for the Gateway at Millbrae Station project, Millbrae officials granted their initial approval for Muzzi’s development with an eye on hammering out final details later. The issue is slated to return at a subsequent meeting.
Throughout the deliberation process regarding development near the train station, Lee has been the most staunch critic, citing fears the projects have not been adequately examined.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t build this, I’m saying we should properly plan to support all the new residents,” he said of the Gateway project.
Yet despite the concerns, the final sound heard following the vote was applause from the development team celebrating their approval.
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