116-acre site clash continues: BART developer wants to break ground, but Millbrae official still remains critical

Article Source: San Mateo Daily Journal

The developer tabbed to erect a massive development near the Millbrae rail station is raring to build, but a councilmember continues harboring concerns that the project may harm the existing community’s quality of life.

An executive at Republic Urban, the company selected to build mixed-use developments in Millbrae on land owned by Bay Area Rapid Transit, is uncertain the economy will maintain its health, compelling him to urgently push the proposed project ahead.

But a local official claimed poor accessibility to the train station and concerns regarding public safety should be adequately addressed before the project can move forward.

Michael Van Every, CEO of Republic Urban, said his company is hoping to break ground early next year to build more than 300 units of housing, roughly 47,000 square feet of retail space, more than 160,000 square feet of office space, potentially a hotel as well as a development with 55 affordable units for military veterans near the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.

Van Every said it is imperative to meet the timeline, as the development and investment community is uncertain how long the booming economy will last, and fears a slowdown could cause the project a major delay.

“So far the economy appears to be continuing, but you just don’t know,” he said. “It’s less anxiety, but some cautious concern there could be some trouble ahead of us.”

Plans for the project have been submitted, said Van Every, but there is not yet a timeline for the development to be vetted by city officials.

Councilwoman Gina Papan though said the developer’s interest in building the project should come second to the need for assurances that the project will not create traffic gridlock in the heart of Millbrae.

“They are trying to push development as quickly as possible, no matter what the consequences are, and that is extremely disheartening and disappointing,” she said.

Papan said the existing plans for cars and buses traveling to the site are inadequate as there is only one proposed entrance and exit to the BART and Caltrain station, which likely is insufficient to accommodate the expected increase in demand once the site is developed.

Her fears are compounded by the existing traffic conditions at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, already choked with cars driving to and from Highway 101 on Millbrae Avenue, she said.

The developer proposed a transportation and accessibility plan as part of the Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan that laid the groundwork for authorizing development in the 116-acre site near the rail station, but Papan said city officials were dissatisfied with the findings and, as a result, commissioned their own study.

Papan, who voted against the station specific plan, said she favored postponing allowing construction until concerns regarding transportation and access could be addressed.

“It is my strong belief, and a lot of the community’s belief, it is first and foremost that we get an accessibility plan that is workable,” she said. “We cannot build and then come up with an access plan.”

Beyond potential transportation issues, residents turned out to the council meeting Tuesday, July 12, and expressed concerns over the recent uptick of home burglaries that have taken place in neighborhoods throughout Millbrae.

Geno Caccia, one of the residents who spoke during the meeting, said the rise in property crime is an unfamiliar and unwelcome occurrence in his city.

“I grew up there, and it has never been an unsafe place to live,” he said. “But it is like the Wild West for outlaws to come and take stuff.”

Roger Copeland, who oversees law enforcement in Millbrae for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, authored a letter acknowledging the issues raised by residents, and said a series of community meetings will be held in the coming weeks to better illustrate his department’s crime-fighting strategies.

Burglary and larceny crimes have doubled in Millbrae over the past four years, according to Copeland’s letter.

During the meeting, the council also approved hiring one more sheriff’s deputy to focus on traffic patrol in Millbrae, which Papan said would offer greater police surveillance.

Beyond addressing the immediate risk posed by the burglaries, Copeland has said law enforcement officials will need to develop a longer term vision to prepare for the shifting demographics in Millbrae brought on by development near the rail station.

Papan said she worked to ensure law enforcement policy was built into the 116-acre plan, but noted the rail station project, combined with potential new development along El Camino Real in Millbrae and on Rollins Road in Burlingame, makes it necessary to keep potential future public safety concerns in mind.

“With any increased population, you do run a risk,” she said.

For his part, Van Every said the concerns regarding access and crime prevention are common with most large projects, and acknowledged part of the delay in moving the proposal forward could be attributed to the limitations of a small city staff in Millbrae.

Alternatively, he encouraged opponents to acknowledge the benefits potentially offered by development with proximity to public transportation, the opportunity to generate significant tax revenue for Millbrae and construction of new homes in an area starved for housing.

“They are a small city, and they do have limited resources, so we are understanding of that,” he said. “But at the same time, this is the type of housing, jobs and economic development that a city like Millbrae desperately needs.”

Van Every said he felt it would be unfortunate for a project he considered worthy to be delayed due to the opposition of a few frustrated parties.

“I think they want to serve the needs of the few and not the needs of the city, county and state,” he said.

Papan though accused the developer and property owner of having only their best interest in mind.

“It appears that BART is just out to make money,” she said.


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